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

Raheleh Zamani


Age: 27
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Married


Date of Execution: January 2, 2008
Location: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder

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 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 counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s attorney in confidence

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.

  • 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.

Judgment rights

  • The right to appeal to a court of higher jurisdiction.

ICCPR, Article 14.5.

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

About this Case

Because of the physical and mental abuse by her husband, Ms. Zamani went to court and filed for divorce. The judge stated: “Go make do, my dear girl. He’s your husband, so he beat you up, [it’s not a big deal].”

News of Ms. Raheleh Zamani’s execution was published by numerous sources including Isca News Agency (January 2, 2008) and Hamvatan Salam (January 2, 2008), Entekhab, Etemad, and Iran newspapers (January 3, 2008). Additional information was obtained from other sources* including Ms. Hosseinkhah, a women’s rights activist who was in the same prison ward with Ms. Zamani.

Ms. Zamani’s prison mate describes her as a tall and beautiful woman who was calm, meek [and shy], and polite.

Ms. Zamani was 27 years old and was from Idly, a village of the town of Sarab, Ardebil Province. She never learned Farsi due to her family’s poverty and lack of school in her village. Until the time of her arrest, she only spoke Azeri. Ms. Zamani was forcibly married to one of their neighbors in 1995, when she was only 14. She said this regarding how she met and married her husband: “I was 14. We lived in a village in Ardebil [Province]. The boys went to school in another village that had a school, but my father didn’t allow me to go. One day when I came back from working on our farm, my mother told me that I had a suitor [who had asked for my hand in marriage] and that my father had accepted. They had agreed to have the marriage ceremony the following week. I had no idea what a husband even was. They said if you get married there will be one less mouth to feed…” (HRANA).

Ms. Zamani moved to Tehran with her husband a few years after they were married. According to her, she had always wanted to learn hairdressing but her husband never allowed her. In prison, however, she learned hairdressing and sewing in addition to Farsi. Ms. Zamani had a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son.

Ms. Zamani’s case revolved around the murder of her husband, Mohammad, in Eslamshahr on April 5, 2005.

The issuance and implementation of Ms. Zamani’s death sentence caused widespread reaction among human rights activists, as well as national and international institutions. Amnesty International (December 16 and 19, 2007, and January 8, 2008), the International Federation for the Defense of Human Rights, Mothers of Peace Committee, and the Iranian Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Ms. Shirin Ebadi, among others, objected to the sentence and demanded that it be revoked. (Radio Farda, January 4, 2008, and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Website). In a letter to Ayatollah Shahrudi [then-Head of the Judiciary] a number of well-known individuals and university professors in the town of Sarab asked that the sentence not be implemented (Deutsche Welle). Reacting to the implementation of Ms. Zamani’s sentence, Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister, Raymond Jansen, submitted an official objection to the Iranian Government, adding: “[The fact] that these two small children must grow up without a father and a mother is terrifying. We have contacted Iran’s ambassador [in Norway] and have objected to this savage act.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman considered the Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister’s statements as interfering [in Iran’s internal affairs] and responded: “We are sorry that, instead of being realistic and respectful of the laws of other countries, certain Norwegian statesmen try to promote and encourage crimes in [other] societies by imposing their personal preferences.” (Radio Farda January 6, 2008).

Arrest and Detention

Following her husband’s brother’s report to the police that his brother was missing, and subsequent to the discovery of his body in their home (Ms. Zamani’s home), Ms. Zamani was arrested in April 2005 and underwent questioning at Eslamshahr Public Prosecutor’s Office. There’s no information regarding the exact date and manner of her arrest. Ms Zamani spent her three-year sentence at Evin Prison. During that time, she asked to see her children four times but never did. After her arrest, her husband’s sister took charge of one of her children and her husband’s brother took charge of the other one. (Deutsche Welle).


On October 17, 2005, Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 74, tried Ms. Zamani. At trial, she was deprived of an attorney; furthermore, she was not able to speak Farsi. She had a court-appointed attorney in one trial session, to whom she had never spoken before, and who had left her alone to mount her own defense. After almost three years (subsequent to the Court of Appeals upholding Ms. Zamani’s death sentence and sending it to the Sentence Implementation [Section]), during which Ms. Zamani’s family had provided her absolutely no support at all, Mothers of Peace Committee was informed of her situation through two members of the campaign (the One Million Signatures Campaign) who were incarcerated in the same ward as Ms. Zamani, and retained Ms. Arzani as her attorney. Therefore, Ms. Zamani had a lawyer (of her choice) only three months prior to her execution.


The charge against Ms. Zamani was “[premeditated] intentional murder”.

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

Evidence of guilt

The evidence against Ms. Zamani consisted of her own “confessions” and the discovery of “her husband’s mutilated body” in a barrel in the courtyard of their home (located in Eslamshahr).

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress.


Speaking in Azari, she had limited knowledge of Farsi language. She did not even know the meaning of the word “defense” at the court. 

According to a report by Ms. Maryam Hosseinkhah, journalist and women’s rights activist, Ms. Zamani had not been able to mount a defense at trial, due to her poor Farsi and to not having an attorney. At trial, Ms. Zamani did not know the meaning of the word “defense” and every time the judge had asked her to say something in her own defense, she had simply stated “I have killed a man.” According to Ms. Hosseinkhah, it was months after the trial that she understood what the word “defense” meant. (RAHANA, Deutsche Welle, Change for Equality).

It was three years after she had been arrested that Ms. Zamani was able to speak to her attorney, Ms. Arzani. The latter discovered discrepancies and ambiguities in the case and, along with three other lawyers, wrote a letter to Ayatollah Shahrudi, requesting a re-trial.

In interviews with the media (in prison and through several jailed journalists) and in talking to her prison mates, Ms. Zamani had repeatedly talked about domestic violence she had endured in 9 years of marriage: “My husband would start a fight over every little thing and would beat me. He would spin my hair around his hand and would throw me every which way… He had pushed me down the stairs in our home so many times that I would sometimes just draw a blank. I would be beaten because the tea was too light, I would be beaten because I had become pregnant, I would be beaten because my stomach had gotten big due to my pregnancy…” At one point, she had been hospitalized for three days because of the beatings she had suffered at the hands of her husband. (Change for Equality).

Mrs. Zamani obtained her elected lawyer only three months before her execution. The very first trial session was held in the abscence of even the public defender. 

According to women’s rights activists who had gone to her birthplace and investigated her, on one occasion Ms. Zamani had lost consciousness because of the severity of the blows, and, on another occasion, she had lost the baby she was carrying due to the injuries she suffered from beatings perpetrated by her husband. She had three medical files in Sarab hospitals, documenting the beatings suffered at the hands of her husband. Ms. Zamani was also repeatedly subjected to physical violence by her husband after moving to Tehran. While living in Tehran, she had been thrown down the stairs of their home numerous times, and therefore suffered from chronic headaches and from bouts of instant and temporary amnesia. (Deutsche Welle).

According to a RAHANA report, Ms. Zamani’s husband subjected her to mental abuse in addition to physical violence; he called her “ugly” and “useless.” He also had sexual relations with other women, and would sexually assault Ms. Zamani after watching pornographic movies.

Because of the physical and mental abuse, Ms. Zamani went to court and filed for divorce. The judge, however, stated: “Go make do, my dear girl. He’s your husband, so he beat you up, [it’s not a big deal].” He refused to grant her a divorce and gave her a trial date for four months later. Ms. Zamani’s husband refused to divorce her at the later adjudication time. As a result, she had to continue living with him. (Change for Equality).

Not only did the law not allow her to obtain a divorce, her own family did not deem divorce permissible. On one occasion she had taken refuge at her father’s home and said that she wanted a divorce. They had thrown her out at night saying “a girl must carry a man’s name.” (Change for Equality).

Ms. Zamani had stated at trial, as well as during interrogation sessions, that three days prior to the night of the incident, her husband had brought home a woman with whom he had sexual relations, and they had had a fight and an argument: “Three days before the murder (my husband) had brought home a woman. I saw them myself. I protested. I said I didn’t want that kind of life anymore. I asked him why he had done that? He bothered me instead of apologizing. He threatened me and told me not to say anything about it to anyone, not to say that he had done that numerous times before. He said ‘I’ll kill you if you open your mouth’.” Ms. Zamani consulted with one of her neighbors about reporting the episode to the police but the neighbor told her: “It’s pointless; the police aren’t going to take your word for it. Also, what if your husband says he had made a Siqeh (temporary marriage in Shi’a Islam) with her? The police will say he has done nothing illegal. Then what will you have to say?” The neighbor had thus dissuaded her. (Change for Equality).

In a letter to the Supreme Court regarding the night of the incident, Ms. Zamani stated: “My children used to sleep with me at night, one on each side. That night, I opened my eyes for an instant and noticed that he had taken the kids to a corner in the room and that he was standing over me. He had brought his hands close to my throat and wanted to strangle me. As soon as I opened my eyes, he panicked and left. I was awake all night out of fear, and was praying. The next day, I asked him why he did those things to me. He gave me a pill and told me to take it, that it was a sedative. I took the pill and then I don’t know what happened. My head was spinning. All of a sudden, I felt like I had so much energy that I could lift a mountain. My entire being was filled with rage, with humiliation. I couldn’t stand him anymore. I took an iron rod and hit him in the head with it. I didn’t know what I was doing… I didn’t want to kill him. Everything happened in an instant. He had worn me out. He had made me hate him so much that I had had enough…” (Change for Equality, May 27, 2008).

In an interview with Ms. Maryam Hosseinkhah regarding the day of the incident, Ms Zamani stated: “In the morning, when he realized I wasn’t feeling well, he gave me another one of those pills. I didn’t sleep but I was going crazy. My feet were shaking when I went to hang up the clothes to dry. I put the basket of clothes down in the yard and I asked him again: ‘Why did you bring a woman to my house?’ He hit me in the mouth and said: ‘None of your business. I felt like it, and I’ll do it again.’ When he started beating me, I noticed the iron rod in a corner of the yard, the same one he had used to beat me with before. I lifted the rod over my head to scare him into not beating me. I don’t know what happened but I hit him in the head with it. He fell to the ground and didn’t get up no matter how much I called him. He wasn’t breathing. He was dead.” (RAHANA).

There is no precise information about the ambiguities in the case, to which Ms. Arzani had alluded, except for the pill (the pill that, according to Ms. Zamani, was given to her by her husband prior to the incident) and its possible effects, and whether the court has essentially examined the issue or not. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, one Mothers of Peace Committee member stated, quoting the victim’s relatives: “In their opinion, Ms. Zamani was not capable of such an act by herself and she probably either had an accomplice or was not in a normal state. Since she did this only a few months after giving birth, it was possible that she had become temporarily insane.” Ms. Nahid Keshavarz, a human rights activist, said in this regard: “She (Ms. Zamani) did this in a state of temporary insanity; the Medical Examiner had said two days after [the murder], however, that Raheleh did not suffer from mental illness. The problem here is that nobody can diagnose temporary insanity that has occurred two days earlier.” (Sarmayeh newspaper).

A Summary of the Defects of Ms. Raheleh Zamani’s Legal Proceedings

Analysis of the late Raheleh Zamani’s case is important in several respects, the most significant of which are the sociological and criminological ones. The late Ms. Zamani was married off by her father to an acquaintance at age 14, without having any notion of what marriage was. The first injustice she suffers occurs because a society’s laws and customs allow a father to marry his daughter to a man at the age of 14. Under Iranian laws, a girl is deemed to be mature (age of consent and of criminal responsibility) at the age of 9. This has been the cause for young girls, who have no understanding of marriage, to start living married lives. Being married at such a young age undoubtedly increases the chances of becoming a victim of violence and of violation of rights. The late Ms. Zamani was born in a small village and had no education or training. She did not even know how to read and write. This is the second injustice. Even though the government is obligated to provide citizens with the opportunities for an education, and parents are duty bound to provide the necessary facilities for their children’s education, Raheleh did not have the opportunity to become educated and literate because she was born in a small village and in a traditional family. That is why she had no idea what her rights were, even under the most basic laws. She could not oppose her father’s wishes and had no will of her own. As time went on, she was unable to defend herself when she became a victim of her husband’s violence, and free herself from that situation. There is no doubt that the government is at fault to start with. The existence of discriminatory laws against women, and the lack of mechanisms for protecting women against violence is the reason why individuals like Raheleh must endure violence. If Raheleh had had a minimum of education, if she had had a job and been financially independent, if the prospect for Raheleh obtaining a divorce had not been impossible or extremely difficult, if there were state mechanisms for protection of victims of domestic violence, and dozens of other ifs, Raheleh would not have had to take her husband’s violence. Which begs the question: Isn’t all of this the government’s responsibility and among its duties [to its citizens]? One must not forget, of course, the prevailing culture in society. Raheleh is, on the one hand, a victim of the country’s laws and system, and on the other, a victim of her own society.

Although it is necessary to have access to the case file in order to conduct a precise legal analysis, it is possible, however, to point to certain defects in the case from the available published information.

Ms. Zamani, who was arrested and tried for the murder of her husband, was deprived of the right to have access to an attorney up until a certain phase of the adjudication. According to published reports, Ms. Zamani did not have an attorney in the preliminary stage of the investigation. Furthermore, the first trial session at the Province Criminal Court was conducted without the presence of an attorney, whereas, pursuant to Iranian laws, the presence of an attorney is mandatory in criminal cases that carry the death penalty. If the accused does not retain an attorney, the court is obligated to appoint one for him/her. The General and Revolutionary Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, Article 186, Note 1, in force at the time of Raheleh’s trial, provides: “In the event that, for crimes the punishment for which is, by law, Qesas-e-nafs (“retribution”), execution, stoning, and life imprisonment, the defendant does not personally [retain and] present an attorney, it is mandatory for the court to appoint one for him/her…” The absence of an attorney in the aforementioned cases will, therefore, make the court’s rulings void. Furthermore, it does not appear that what is meant by mandatory, is only the presence of an attorney at trial, but rather, that it is also mandatory in the preliminary investigations. Raheleh Zamani was able to have access to an attorney, three years after being arrested. During those three years, a case was initiated against her and many of the stages [of adjudication] had already been completed. It can therefore be said that Raheleh was illegally denied access to an attorney and that this constitutes a serious defect in the court’s ruling and her death sentence, especially since Raheleh was illiterate and incapable of defending herself. Although she had confessed to killing her husband right from the start, this by no means was a reason to deny her a fair trial.

According to various reports, Raheleh Zamani did not speak Farsi and did not even understand the judge’s and other people’s statements; so much so, that she did not even know what the word “defense” meant: When the judge had told her “Defend yourself”, she had said: “I have killed a man.” All of this begs the question: How can a defendant, who is illiterate and does not speak Farsi, be interrogated? In all probability, the interrogators and the judicial authorities had questioned Ms. Zamani without an interpreter and to the extent that they were capable of understanding her, wrote the documents themselves, and had her sign or put her fingerprint on them, whereas it was necessary to use an interpreter at all stages of adjudication. The General and Revolutionary Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, Article 202 provides: “In the event that the plaintiff, the private complainant, the defendant, or the witnesses do not speak Farsi, the court shall appoint two persons as interpreters. The interpreter must be [one] that the court deems trustworthy, and must pledge that he/she will translate every statement accurately and without changing anything.” This Article has not been observed in Ms. Zamani’s case and has undoubtedly caused serious defect to [her right to a] fair trial.

Subsequent to the issuance and the upholding of Ms. Zamani’s death sentence, through the efforts of her attorney and a number of human rights activists, the then-Head of the Judiciary ordered that implementation of the sentence be postponed for one months, during which time, Raheleh Zamani was given the opportunity to obtain the next of kin’s forgiveness. Fifteen days after the Head of the Judiciary’s order, however, Raheleh was suddenly executed, while in the midst of her efforts to obtain forgiveness. This was also wrong from a judicial custom standpoint, and constituted an injustice to Raheleh Zamani: She, herself, or civil society activists, might have been able to obtain the victim’s family’s forgiveness in the remaining time.


Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 74, composed of four judges and a chief judge, sentenced Ms. Raheleh Zamani to Qesas. The sentence was upheld by Supreme Court Branch 28, in June 2006.

On December 19, 2007, Ms Zamani was taken to the gallows, but the sentence was delayed for one month, (due to efforts made by her attorney (Ms. Arzani) and those of a number of women’s rights activists, which resulted in a direct order by the Head of the Judiciary [postponing the execution]) with the objective of obtaining the victim’s family’s forgiveness. (Amir Kabir News Bulletin). Disobeying Ayatollah Shahrudi’s order, however, Ms. Zamani was hanged only fifteen days later, in the morning of January 2, 2008, at Tehran’s Evin Prison.

Ms. Zamani obtained a one-month delay from the head of Judiciary to be able to seek forgiveness from the family of her husband. Hoever, she was executed 15 days later without even having a chance to meet her children for the very last time. 

Prison officials did not allow Ms. Zamani to meet with her attorney and her children before execution. Ms. Zamani’s attorney and other human rights activists were informed by one of her prison mates of her having been transferred to solitary confinement to be executed, at 12 midnight.


*Other sources

Kayhan, Hamshahri, and Qods newspapers (ctober 18, 2005), Fars News Agency (June 7, 2006), Sarmayeh newspaper (December 18, 2007) Iran Emruz newspaper (December 19, 2007), Amir Kabir News Bulletin (December 20, 2007), Radio Farda (January 2, 4, and 6, 2008), ISNA (December 18 and 19, 2007), Iran newspaper (January 3, 2008), Deutsche Welle (January 3, 2008), Etemad newspaper (December 19, 2007), Change for Equality (May 28, 2008), Maznunan (December 12, 2007), HRANA (October 13, 2010), RAHANA (November 30, 2010), Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation Website.

** Mothers of Peace Committee 

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