Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Atefeh Sahaleh Rajabi


Age: 16
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Single


Date of Execution: August 15, 2004
Location: Neka, Mazandaran Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Hanging
Charges: Adultery
Age at time of offense: 16

Human rights violations in this case

The Legal Context

The Courts


Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 11 February 1979-1994


In the immediate aftermath of the 11 February 1979 Revolution, an ad hoc tribunal, initially referred to as the Extraordinary Revolutionary Tribunal, was set up to try the officials of the previous regime, for which no specific procedures were devised. In a decree dated 24 February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary religious leader, appointed a cleric as Shari’a Judge and instructed him “to issue Shari’a-based rulings,” thereby establishing the foundation of a system of special courts.


Initially, the revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction was determined by the religious judge’s interpretation of the Shari’a (Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, the 12 imams, and the teachings of Shi’a scholars. On 17 June 1979, the Revolutionary Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office Rules of Procedure, which was only selectively observed, established the latter’s jurisdiction and make-up.


The Courts’ jurisdiction encompassed a wide array of offenses including moharebeh (“waging war with God”), efsad e fel arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), crimes against national and international security, economic crimes, murder, profiteering, prostitution, rape, and narcotic drugs-related crimes. The law required that two of the three principal members of the Revolutionary Courts be Shari’a judges.



Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 1994-2002


With the adoption of the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994, and the Code of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts of 19 September 1999, a uniform code of procedure was applied to both revolutionary and general courts. The jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts was limited to 6 categories of offenses:

1. Crimes against national and international security,“moharebeh” (enmity with god) and “efsad e fel arz” (corruption on earth;)

2. defaming Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader;

3. plotting against the Islamic Republic of Iran, armed action, terrorism, and sabotage;

4. espionage;

5. smuggling and drug-related crimes; 6. claims under Principle 49 (economic crimes) of the Constitution.

 6. Furthermore, pursuant to the Law on the Manner of Punishing Individuals Engaged in Unauthorized Audio and Visual Activities, Article 11, the revolutionary courts have jurisdiction over crimes that fall within the purview of said Law, including production and distribution of obscene materials and misuse and abuse thereof.

These courts continued, however, to try cases falling outside their jurisdiction, such as theft and sexual offenses. Further, the vagueness of laws regarding national security allowed the revolutionary courts to try political and media crimes whenever they wished to do so.


The new law eliminated the Prosecutor’s Office and gave the judges inthe Revolutionary Courts the power to perform the duties of the prosecutor, as well as their own, in any case brought before them.


Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 2002-Present


The Amended Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 2002 reinstated the Prosecutor’s Office in both revolutionary and general courts. In cases involving political and media crimes, revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction overlaps with that of Province Criminal Courts.


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014, and its coming into force in June 2015, the jurisdiction of the revolutionary courts remains unchanged, with slight modifications in procedural aspects of adjudication. For instance, the new law provides that for crimes subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, or higher, the revolutionary court shall convene with three judges, whereas, prior to the passage of this law, adjudication of all crimes within the jurisdiction of revolutionary courts took place with only a single judge.

The Appellate System of Revolutionary Courts, 1979-Present


From their inception until 1994, the rulings of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. In the early 1980s a court entitled the Supreme Court of Qom was established in the city of Qom and which reviewed cases of execution and confiscation of properties, thereby forming a first tier form of appeal. The exact date of the creation of the court is not clear, but, based on available information, the court became operational in the early 1980s, even though Ayatollah Khomeini's official order for its creation is dated 1985. The court’s procedure was not systematic and did not meet the international standards for a court of appeals; there was no official record of its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Qom was dissolved in 1989.


The Law of 14 June 1994 subjected the Courts’ decisions to appeal. An appellate court was established at each provincial capital, called the Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by the Revolutionary Courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those involving capital punishment.


Narcotic drugs-related crimes constitute a significant exception to the appeals process. Governed by the Anti-Narcotic Drugs Law of 1988, as Amended on 8 November 1997 and 31 July 3 2010, these crimes are within the jurisdiction of, and are adjudicated on a regular basis by, Revolutionary Courts whose decisions are final. After being handed down by the judge, death sentences are sent to the Prosecutor General or the Head of the Supreme Court as a matter of administrative approval.


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 (and its coming into force in June 2015), however, drug related crimes became subject to appeal as well.

General Courts, 1979-1982


In cases not falling under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts, the system devised under the previous regime continued to function in parallel with new systems devised by laws passed by the Judicial Council, one of which, entitled The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, radically changed the entire structure and categorization of the courts. It divided the courts in three branches: Criminal, Civil, and Peace (a sort of arbitration court dealing with minor financial and other disputes). Specialized courts such as family courts were eliminated.


General Courts, 1982-1994


The Law of the Amendments to the Rules of Criminal Procedure of 1982 established a new criminal courts system, Criminal Courts I and II. Criminal Court I, established only in provincial capitals, had jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Criminal Court II heard less serious crimes.


General Courts, 1994-2002


The Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994 established umbrella courts called General Courts, which replaced and dissolved pre-existing civil and criminal courts. The law dissolved the Prosecutor’s offices and tasked a single person with the roles of judge, prosecutor, and investigator.


General Courts, 2002-2015


In 2002, the 1994 Law was amended, reviving the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in General Courts. The prosecution offices were re-established in a gradual process over several years. The amended law also re-established specialized branches within general courts dealing separately with criminal and civil matters. In addition, this law allocated a number of branches of the Province Court of Appeals to have original jurisdiction over a number of cases including the most serious offenses, as well as political and media crimes. In these cases, the branches are called the Province Criminal Court.


General Courts, 2015 to Today


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, general courts underwent certain changes as well. Criminal courts were divided into Criminal Court One, Criminal Court Two, Military Court, Juvenile Court, and Revolutionary Court. Criminal Court One has jurisdiction over serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, and higher, as well as political and media crimes. Criminal Court Two has jurisdiction over other crimes. Another change consists of the establishment of juvenile courts, which adjudicates crimes committed by individuals less than 18 years of age. In cases where the individuals less than 18 commit serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, however, Criminal Court One will have jurisdiction, observing rules of juvenile criminal procedure.


The Appellate System of General Courts, 1979-Present


The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, abolished appeal of most criminal courts’ decisions. The law of 1982 restricted the appeal possibility even further. According to the Islamic Republic authorities’ interpretation of Islamic Law, a qualified jurist’s decisions were not subject to appeal except under special circumstances, such as when the judge realized his own mistake, or another judge advised him so, or when he did not have jurisdiction over the case. Even in such situations, the case would not go to a higher court but would be subject to review by the same judge or another judge at his level. The judges were even urged to call their verdicts “opinions,” so that the possible change in the verdict would not be “haram” (“sinful,” the highest level of prohibition in Islam, disobedience of which would result in a sin).


In October 1988, the Majles (Iranian parliament) passed a law regarding review of court judgments. This law provided for an appeal if the conviction was claimed to be based on invalid documentation or false testimony. The defendant could also base an appeal on a point of law or a procedural violation.


The appellate system was expanded in other laws in the late 1980s and in 1993. The Law for the Establishment of Criminal Courts I and II of 11 July 1989 created the Branches of the Supreme Court. Crimes of less importance, tried in Criminal Court II, were subject to review by Criminal Court I.


For the most important crimes involving death punishment, which were under the jurisdiction of Criminal Court I, the law allowed limited appeal to the Branches of the Supreme Court. Defendants had the right to petition the Supreme Court for appeal in certain cases involving false testimony or procedural violations, and if granted, the case would be remanded to either another criminal court or the original one.


Finally, the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 1994, as amended in 2002, established an appellate court at each provincial capital, called Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by both general and revolutionary courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those carrying the death penalty, as well as decisions made by the Province Criminal Court.


The amended law of 2002, continued the appellate procedure to the Branches of the Supreme Court established by the afore-mentioned law of 11 July 1989


The Supreme Court continues to be the competent authority to rule on new trials, which have been provided for in limited circumstances.

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, the Court of Appeals shall be the competent authority to hear appeals from Criminal Court Two decisions, and the Supreme Court shall hear appeals from Criminal Court One decisions.

Special Courts for the Clergy


These courts are rooted in a 1979 decree, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, which established a committee of religious and noble figures in every region to purge the clergy of anti-revolutionary elements under the supervision of the Revolutionary Courts. Between late 1981 and 1984, a special court in the city of Qom handled, though not systematically, the trial of clerics.


On 29 July 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini officially appointed a prosecutor and a member of the clergy as Shari’a judge for Special Courts for the Clergy. On 6 August 1990, a directive was issued regulating the conduct of these courts, the jurisdictional ambiguity of which is such that it effectively extends to “anyone where one of the parties is a cleric” and to “all matters in which the Court is designated as competent by the Supreme Leader.”


The court, which was not mentioned in the Islamic Republic's constitution, was mandated to try “pseudo clerics, those related to/connected with the clergy, for public and/or anti-revolutionary crimes, and violations of the prestige of the clergy,” and where the principal suspect is a member of the clergy, “any co-conspirator or assistant, whether a cleric or not.”


These courts are generally not open to the public and can issue sentences for all acts and omissions punishable under codified Iranian laws or Shari’a or for any other acts or omissions which can bring dishonor to the clergy or to the Islamic Revolution. Further, in certain particular cases – which have not been defined – where no punishment has been devised by either the Penal Code or even the Shari’a, the Court “can rule as it deems fit.” 


The Appellate System of the Special Court for the Clergy, 1979-Present


There is no information on any appeal process for the Special Court for the Clergy prior to the 1990 directive. Article 49 of said directive set up, however, an appeals court called Special Appellate Court for the Clergy, the head of which is appointed by the Supreme Leader, to which the decisions of the lower court can be appealed.


Military Courts


The military court system, independent from the judiciary under the previous regime, became a part of it on 1 December 1981. The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces, established in 1986, replaced and merged other military courts and tribunals in existence at the time, namely the pre-revolution Judiciary Organization of the Army, the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Army (established on 8 December 1979), and the Revolutionary and General Court for the Revolutionary Guards (established on 15 July 1979.) The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces has its own Criminal Code and follows the country’s general rules of criminal procedure.


The Law of the Criminal Procedure of the Armed Forces of 15 May 1985 created Military Courts I and II. Military Court I has jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Military Court II hears less serious crimes.


The Appellate System of Military Courts, 1979-Present


The law of 8 December 1979, establishing the Revolutionary Military Court, did not provide for any appeals. The Law of 15 May 1985 created a system of appeals through the creation of a two-tier system of courts. The decisions of Military Court II were subject to review by Military Court I. This law also provided that multiple Branches of the Supreme Court be designated as the appellate court to review decisions of Military Court I.


The judges


1979-1997: Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily law graduates and jurists. Shortly after the Islamic Revolution, a five-member Committee was established to purge the judicial system of undesirable elements, pursuant to the Legal Bill for the Modification of the Judiciary and the Law for Hiring Judges of 8 March 1979. The power of the committee was absolute and its decisions, resulting in a widespread purge of the judiciary, final.


The Law for the Conditions of Selection of Judges of 4 May 1981 established the conditions of eligibility for judges. The latter were to be hired among men who were legitimate children and had practical commitment to Islam and allegiance to the Islamic Republic. The law, which led to the hiring of clerics and Islamic legal scholars, also allowed hiring practically anyone as a judge who could “obtain the Judicial High Council’s permission.” Moreover, Note 2 of the Amendments of 4 October 1982 to this law allowed widespread employment of seminary students “who ha[d] general knowledge equivalent to a high school diploma” as judges at prosecutor’s offices in general as well as Revolutionary Courts.  


By 1989, the judiciary counted about 2,000 new judges trained in theological seminaries (graduates and students) and political appointees, many having replaced judges trained in law schools.


1997-Present: As of this writing (2013) the Law for Hiring Judges and its amendments of 4 October 1982, 7 February 1987, and 9 May 1988 are in full force and form the basis for hiring judges. The Executive Rules of Procedure of 22 December 1997 subjected such hiring to passing an entrance examination and successful completion of an apprenticeship program, the duration of which ranges between one and two years. The law does not limit hiring to men only but does not specify in what capacity women will be functioning, other than an advisory one.

Currently, judges are selected in accordance with the Guidelines on the Recruitment, Selection, and Internship for Judicial Candidates and the Hiring of Judges.


Dismissal of Judges: From 1979 to 1989, the judiciary was run by the Supreme Judicial Council which was composed of the head of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General (both of whom were appointed by the Supreme Leader), and three judges elected by the entire body of judges in the country. The Council had the power to hire and dismiss judges in accordance with the law.


The constitutional reforms of 1989 substituted the Supreme Judicial Council with one person, the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader, whose mandate is not subject to popular vote, appoints the Head of the Judiciary for a 5-year term. The latter has significant power to influence the dismissal of judges. Dismissal cases are referred to three types of disciplinary courts, presided over by judges appointed by the Head of the Judiciary, who has veto power over any decisions made by the relevant courts.


Two of these courts, established in 1991 and 2011, are charged with examining the judges’ conduct from a religious and ideological standpoint. The process does not necessarily involve the defendant and the final decision, left to the Head of the Judiciary, is not subject to appeal.


Human rights violations

Based on the available information, the following human rights may have been violated in this case:

  • The right to liberty and security of the person. The right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 9.1.

  • The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

The right to due process

  • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

  • The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.

UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a

  • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

  • The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

  • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

Trial rights

  • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

ICCPR, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

  • The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

  • The right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence.

ICCPR, Article 6.4.

Capital punishment
  • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

  • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

  • The right of a person not to be subjected to the capital punishment for an offence committed before the age of eighteen. The right not to be deprived of life while pregnant.

ICCPR, Article 6.5; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37.a.

About this Case

A 16-year-old girl who had been arrested three times in the course of one year, on charges of “Non-Muhsan Zina”, and was sentenced to 100 lashes each time, was sentenced to be hanged in public after her fourth arrest.

News of the execution of Ms. Atefeh Sahaleh (Rajabi), child of Bibi Ra’ee and Safarali, was published in Kayhan newspaper (August 22, 2004) and on the Amnesty International website (August 23, 2004). Additional information about this case was obtained from news published in Iran (August 29, 2004) and Etemad (September 21, 2004) newspapers, ISNA Iranian Students News Agency website (September 10, 2004), Mazandnume News and Analysis Website (August 22, 2004, September 11 and 30, 2004, February 16, 2005), and from the Amnesty International Report dated January 1, 2011.

Ms. Sahaleh was born on September 21, 1987, to an extremely poor family in the town of Neka in Mazandaran Province. Her family moved to [the city of] Mashhad after her birth. Her parents were divorced when she was still a toddler, with her father assuming guardianship of the children. Her mother remarried after the divorce and died in an automobile accident when Ms. Sahaleh was 5 years old. A short while later, Ms. Sahaleh’s brother drowned in a river. Her father was an itinerant vendor, and he would leave Ms. Sahaleh and her sister with the neighbors since he had to travel to other towns. At one point he entrusted them to the Khorassan Province Welfare Organization for a while, until he ultimately took them to their grandparents’ home in the town of Neka and left for good. When Ms. Sahaleh got a little older, she had to assume all the responsibilities at her grandfather’s home, and take care of her 90-year-old grandfather and 70-year-old grandmother. Her relatives and people close to her describe her as a very kind girl. (Mazandnume, ISNA).

Ms. Sahaleh’s case was related to sex crimes.

Arrest and detention

The town of Neka police officers arrested Ms. Sahaleh in May 2004, at her grandfather’s home. On April 25, 2003, Neka law enforcement officials received unsigned reports against Ms. Sahaleh which were said to be from the people living in the neighborhood. A few days later, following her grandfather lodging a complaint against her, a judicial official issued a warrant for Ms. Sahaleh’s arrest. After her arrest, the agents proceeded to search the home and arrested another young girl who was in the house at the time, along with Ms. Sahaleh. Two men, who, according to Ms. Sahaleh, had relations with her were arrested and questioned as well. (Iran newspaper).

Ms. Sahaleh was arrested on the basis of unsigned local reports and her grandfather's complaint. 

Ms. Sahaleh’s father announced in an interview that during the three months Ms. Sahaleh was in detention, he only visited with her for 10 minutes. (Mazandnume).

There is no information regarding other details of Ms. Sahaleh’s arrest and detention.


The town of Neka General Court Branch One tried Ms. Sahaleh. Since Ms. Sahaleh could not afford to hire an attorney, she was assigned a court-appointed one. There is no information about the trial session(s).


The charge against Ms. Sahaleh’s was declared to be “Non-Musena Zina” (“Fornication”, or consensual sexual intercourse between two people not married to each other, unlawful in Islam) [1]. (Kayhan newspaper, Mazandnume). However, a Neka judiciary official stated that the charges brought against Ms. Sahaleh were “Efsad fel-Arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”) through “establishing a corruption center”, as well as “unlawful (contrary to Shar’a law) sexual relations” and “indecent acts [against chastity]”. (Mazandnume).

She was first arrested when she was only 14 and was charged with “corruption” and “fornication”. The second arrest occurred less than two months later, and the third one about six months after that. She had been sentenced to a total of 300 lashes.

Based on available information, during her trial sessions, Ms. Sahaleh admitted  and confessed to four counts of fornication and to undergoing the Hadd punishment of flogging three times. (Kayhan and Iran newspapers). Prior to her last arrest, Ms. Sahaleh had been arrested and charged with “corruption” and “fornication” on three separate occasions and was convicted and sentenced each time to 100 lashes. These sentences had been carried out in the space of less than a year, on January 17, 2002, and March 16, 2002, (when she was just 14 years old) and September 21, 2002 (six months after the second sentence). (Mazandnume).

Evidence of guilt

The Town of Neka General Court Branch One judge cited a complaint lodged by Ms. Sahaleh’s grandfather and unsigned reports from several neighborhood residents alleging that “a young girl in this neighborhood has engaged in corruption and prostitution, and has immoral relations with a number of individuals” as evidence for Ms. Sahaleh’s arrest and prosecution. Pursuant to the judge’s order, an inquiry was made with Behshahr Prison regarding Ms. Sahaleh’s record, which showed that she had a record of imprisonment in 2000-01. (Iran newspaper, Mazandnume).


There is no information regarding details of Ms. Sahaleh or her court-appointed attorney’s defense at trial.

Based on available information, there are numerous defects in the manner the investigations and the proceedings were conducted as well as violations of the laws. Among these are the following:

1. Ms. Sahaleh’s age:

The judiciary officials announced Ms. Sahaleh’s age as 22 (Kayhan and Iran newspapers). According to a report by Mazandnume website, the trial judge stated Ms. Sahaleh’s age as 22 in the court decision as well as in his correspondence with the Supreme Court. Furthermore, her date of birth is stated as 1982 in the burial permit.

Ms. Sahaleh’s father and aunt (her father’s sister) stated, however, that she was only 16 years old at the time of the arrest and the implementation of her sentence, and according to her birth certificate, her academic records, and a copy of the death certificate issued by the State Personal Information Registration Organization, Ms. Sahaleh’s date of birth was September 21, 1987. (Mazandnume).

Judiciary officials declared Ms. Sahaleh’s age to be 22 when she was actually only 16 years old.

Pursuant to the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Islamic Penal Code, there are special rules and regulations that govern proceedings and issuance of a sentence for children and young adults (juvenile, minors who have not reached the legal age). [2]. In spite of the fact that Ms. Sahaleh was under the age of 17 at the time of her arrest, she was considered to be 22 years old throughout the proceedings and none of the regulations providing for leniency were applied in her case. Furthermore, in accordance with the judicial precedent in force in Iran, death sentences issued for individuals under the age of 18 are usually delayed until they reach 18. It seems that if judiciary officials had taken Ms. Sahaleh’s real age into account, not only it is possible that a death sentence would not have been issued in her case, but even in the event that one had been issued, it would have been delayed until she reached the age of 18.

2. A claim of mental  disorder:

According to Ms. Sahaleh’s family members, she was not of completely sound mind, mentally and emotionally healthy. According to them, Ms. Sahaleh would become extremely agitated and abusive at times. (Mazandnume).

On May 23, 2004, in her objection to the trial court’s verdict, she stated that she suffered from periodic insanity and had written to the Court of Appeals: “I witnessed my parents’ disputes and conflicts in my childhood. I was very young when my mother left my father, and subsequently died in a car accident. My brother drowned in a river six months later. My sister and I grew up in the city of Mashhad and I was turned over to my grandparents when I hit puberty. There is medical documentation and evidence that proves that I suffer from a weak mental and emotional state and that there are times in a 24-hour period where I lose my senses and my mind and I become capable of doing anything, negative or positive… I can only prove my claim through the testimony of local affiants and witnesses and medical tests by the Medical Examiner’s Office.” (ISNA, Mazandnume). These claims and requests made by Ms. Sahaleh were ignored and disregarded in all phases of the proceedings.

According to the family’s statements and to affidavits from neighborhood residents, Ms. Sahaleh suffered from mental health issues.

Residents of Ms. Sahaleh’s neighborhood wrote affidavits attesting that Ms. Sahaleh was not of sound mind and suffered from mental and emotional disorders. Based on available information, on May 22, 2004, a number of neighborhood residents submitted a letter containing 43 signatures to the court in which they stated: “We, the residents of Rah Ahan Street in Neka (Navvab Safavi Street), who are among the trusted locals of Neka, have sufficient information that Atefeh Sahaleh, daughter of Safarali, is not of sound mind, and suffers from mental illness. This information is provided in order to prevent her prosecution.” Another affidavit containing signatures of 44 of Ms. Sahaleh’s neighbors, relatives, and acquaintances, attests to her periodic insanity and mental imbalance. (ISNA, Mazandnume).

Since the charges against Ms. Shahaleh’s were proved through her confession in court, and since, in accordance with her written admission as to periodic insanity and the affidavits of the locals existing in the case file, she suffered from behavioral and mental disorders, her court confession is not admissible, because pursuant to the law, a person who makes an admission or confession, must do so being of completely sound mind and with her own volition. (Mazandnume).

3. Defects in the investigations and violations of the law

Pursuant to the Islamic Penal Code, the punishment for adultery is stoning and the punishment for fornication is 100 lashes. Furthermore, Article 136 of the Islamic Penal Code provides: “Whenever a person commits a crime that is subject to Hadd punishment three separate times, and each time the Hadd punishment is carried out, the Hadd punishment for the fourth time shall be death.”

Based on available information, prior to her last arrest, Ms. Sahaleh had been arrested three times on similar charges, and all three times, the charges were proven on the basis of her admission; the sentence for fornication (100 lashes) was carried out three times. (ISNA). However, Ms. Sahaleh was never examined to determine whether she was of sound mind and in a healthy mental state to see if she was of sound mind when she made self-incriminating confessions. Given the doubt as to the accuracy of her previous admissions and the uncertainty as to the correctness of the previous sentences (three Hadd punishments for the crime of fornication in the span of one year), the court’s decision in issuing a sentence of death by hanging – as a substitute for the Hadd punishment of stoning for committing fornication for a fourth time – is defective and inacceptable.

The adjudication of Ms. Sahaleh’s case took only 105 days from the time of her arrest until the sentence was carried out.

Furthermore, based on the text of the trial court’s decision and the decision of the Court of Appeals, “the judge’s knowledge” was also mentioned as evidence for proving the charge (along with the defendant’s confession). The decision issued by Supreme Court Branch 32 states: “In addition to the defendant’s confession, the fact that the defendant provided precise details of the subject matter and of the manner and specifics of the relations, resulted in the judge having knowledge [of the facts and evidence of the case].” (Mazandnume). However, “the judge’s knowledge” is not among the ways available to prove adultery [and fornication][3], and must not be relied upon by the judge for the issuance of the sentence.

Since the adjudication of Ms. Sahaleh’s case took only 105 days from the time of her arrest until the sentence was carried out, one may conclude that not only were sufficient investigations into the alleged crime and into her mental health and soundness of mind not conducted by judicial and law enforcement officials, but Ms. Sahaleh was not even given ample time and opportunity to mount a defense of herself.


On May 23, 2004, the Town of Neka General Court, Branch One, sentenced Ms. Sahaleh to death by hanging in public. On July 3, 2004, Supreme Court Branch 32 upheld the death sentence and the Head of the Judiciary gave his consent to the implementation of said sentence.

At the gallows, at the moment she was about to be hanged, Ms. Sahaleh told the judge who had issued the sentence: “If you forgive me, I will never look into the eyes of a stranger as long as I live.”

On August 15, 2004, Ms. Atefeh Sahaleh (Razavi) was hanged in public in the Narenj Baq 30-meter [Street] neighborhood located in the town of Neka’s Rah Ahan Avenue.

Based on available information, Ms. Sahaleh’s family members had not been informed of the time and place of the hanging. Ms. Sahaleh’s father was not even able to see his daughter before the sentence was carried out (Mazandnume).

At the moment Ms. Sahaleh was about to be hanged, she gave all her money and possessions to two girls without guardian and turned to the judge in her case and said: “If you forgive me, I will never look into the eyes of a stranger as long as I live.” Then she turned to the crowd and said: “Forgive me!” (Iran newspaper, Mazandnume).


[1] “Zina” is sexual relations between a man and a woman who are strangers to each other (outside the bonds of marriage), and, pursuant to the Islamic Penal Code, consists of two situations:
    1. Muhsen Zina (the equivalent of “adultery”) (the person who commits Zina is a man who has a permanent wife and has the possibility of having sexual relations with her) or Muhsena Zina (the person who commits Zina is a woman who has a permanent husband and has the possibility of having sexual relations with him);
    2. Non-Muhsen Zina (the equivalent of “fornication”, i.e. consensual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman not married to each other) (the person who commits Zina is a man who does not have a permanent wife) or Non-Muhsena Zina (the person who commits Zina is a woman who does not have a permanent husband).
The Hadd punishment for Muhsen or Muhsena Zina is death by stoning, and the Hadd punishment for Non-Muhsin or Non-Muhsina Zina is 100 lashes.

[2] These regulations include:
    1. Special Police for Juvenile Offenders (Article 31 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure): In order for law enforcement officers to properly carry out their duties regarding juveniles, a Special Police for Juvenile Offenders is hereby established within  the Islamic Republic of Iran Police Force…
    2. Opening a character profile on the juvenile (Article 286 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure): [In crimes the punishment for which is death, …], it is mandatory for the prosecutor’s office or the Juvenile Court to open a character profile for the juvenile offender.
    3. The mandatory nature of the presence of an advisor in juvenile proceedings (Article 298 of the Law on the Rules of Criminal Procedure): Juvenile Court shall convene with a judge and an advisor present.

[3] In the Islamic Penal Code, the means of proving Zina have been defined as follows:
    (1) Confession (the person who has committed Zina (who must be an adult, of sound mind, and independent) must confess four times before the judge); and
    (2) Testimony (the testimony of four just men, or three just men and two just women, is necessary).

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