In a change of heart, an Iran mother removed the gallows noose from the neck of her son’s killer, sparing his life at the nth hour. Still grieving her son’s murder seven years ago, she made the decision together with her husband that compassion would triumph over vengeance for the murder. The mother’s decision was in response to a dream about her deceased son that he was in a better place.
The murderer, Balal, whose last name has not been released, was convicted and sentenced to death. In Iran, the family participates in decisions regarding the execution of the murderer of their loved one. This follows the Sharia law of retribution, called qisas. Iranian lawyer Afrouz Magzi calls this law “an eye for an eye” and is working publicly in Iran to change it, saying that it is not up to individuals to decide about the fate of others.
In 2007 the woman’s elder son, Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, age 18, was walking with friends in the bazaar in a small town, in the northern part of Iran. Balal, then in his 20s, shoved him and Abdollah, offended, kicked him back. Unbeknownst to Abdollah, Balal had a kitchen knife tucked in his sock and used it against Abdollah, killing him. Balal was apprehended after escaping the scene of the stabbing. It took six years for the death sentence to be decided by the court.
The victim’s family deferred Balal’s execution multiple times. In one instance, they chose to delay it due to its proximity to the Persian new year, Nowruz. However, it was Abdollah’s mother who made the final decision, showing that the compassion of her heart would trump avenging the death of her son. This was noteworthy for two reasons. First, once begun, the path towards capital punishment is rarely altered for someone convicted of a crime in Iran. Second, the loss of Abdollah came after the prior loss of the parents’ younger son, Amirhossein, who had died at age 11 in a motorbike accident.
The dream that Mrs. Hosseinzadeh had came three days ago. Abdollah spoke to his mother, saying that he and Amirhossein were in a good place. In the dream, Abdollah asked his mother not to retaliate against Balal. Through her grief, she felt a sense of calm. After carefully thinking through the matter with her husband, they came to the conclusion that Balal’s execution should not be carried out.
In telling the story, Mr. Hosseinzadeh Sr. too showed compassion in acknowledging that Balal did not have the knowledge or skill to handle a knife. He called Balal naïve. His response was also unusual for Iran.
The qisas regulations of retribution, which stems from the Islamic term meaning “settling of accounts,” allow family decisions about perpetrators to be final. This eliminates the judgment by authorities to issue a pardon or commutation of sentences even though it is within Iran’s international obligations to do so.
Next to China, Iran puts to death more people than any other country in the world. Last year, except for China’s numbers, Iran and Iraq combined were responsible for two-thirds of the executions worldwide. Since the beginning of this year, already 199 have taken place in Iran. Amnesty International says that since 2013, nearly 400 public executions have occurred (with children watching, as well). Including those done in secret, the number is closer to 700.
In Tuesday’s turn of events, after Abdollah’s mother removed the noose from Balal’s neck, Balal’s own mother, Kobra, embraced her and the two women cried together. The compassion of this mother trumped that of vengeance against her son’s killer. Those campaigning to reduce the number of executions view this decision with hope, expecting that it may herald a change of heart nationwide in Iran.
By Fern Remedi-Brown