The Observer: Hopes have been raised for the life of the Iranian man who survived a hanging only to be condemned to be re-executed, after one of the country’s oldest and most respected Islamic scholars appeared to question the ruling.
Man convicted of drug smuggling who lived through one execution may now not have to endure another
By Tracy McVeigh
Hopes have been raised for the life of the Iranian man who survived a hanging only to be condemned to be re-executed, after one of the country’s oldest and most respected Islamic scholars appeared to question the ruling.
The extraordinary case of Alireza M, a 37-year-old father of two who was convicted of drug smuggling three years ago, has caused controversy around the world and divided Iranians.
He is in hospital in Bojnurd, in Iran’s northern Khorasan province, not far from the prison where he was hanged by the neck for 12 minutes earlier this month.
Morgue assistants later that day saw condensation on the inside of the plastic shroud around his body and realised he was still breathing.
But even as his family, including his two daughters, celebrated the “miracle”, Iran’s judiciary stated that as Alireza – his full name has not been released – had been sentenced to death, rather than to hanging, he should be re-executed as soon as he is well enough to walk back to the gallows.
One senior judge, Nourollah Aziz-Mohammadi, said that the law required that the convict must die.
“When a convict is sentenced to death, he must die after the sentence is carried out,” Aziz-Mohammadi said. “Now that he is alive, we can say the sentence was not carried out and must be repeated.”
Among the arguments was a fatwa, or ruling, from the religious writings of grand ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, a sharia law expert, which stated that execution was viable even after a convict had come back to life.
But now the 94-year-old ayatollah has posted an oblique reference to the case on his website, suggesting that, as it concerns a case of drug smuggling, not among crimes seen as an act against God, his earlier fatwa need not apply.
The statement simply ran: “The issue that has been raised in [his writings] has nothing to do with [this man’s] case and the ayatollah has another view about his issue.”
Human rights activists, already concerned about Iran’s high rate of executions, say Alireza should be spared under international law, which forbids “cruel and unusual punishment”.
There are also concerns that Iran is botching hundreds of executions, leaving people to die slow, agonising deaths, because the sheer volume of killings being carried out means they are not being done “professionally”.
According to Amnesty International, at least 508 people may have been executed in Iran this year.
Most of those had been convicted of drug trafficking as the Iranian authorities target drug smuggling – a crackdown that is being funded by the UK and other European countries.
Human rights groups believe Iran is second only to China in the number of people it executes.
“The horrific prospect of this man facing a second hanging, after having gone through the whole ordeal already once, merely underlines the cruelty and inhumanity of the death penalty,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme.
Luther called for both a stay of execution for the hanging survivor and a moratorium on all executions in the country.
“Carrying out a second execution on a man who somehow managed to survive 12 minutes of hanging – who was certified as dead and whose body was about to be turned over to his family – is simply ghastly. It betrays a basic lack of humanity that sadly underpins much of Iran’s justice system,” said Luther.
Inside Iran the debate goes on. Scholars and holy men report being inundated with queries for clarity from ordinary people, while newspapers report high levels of support among their readers for the man’s life to be spared.
A group of lawyers has signed a petition appealing for a stay. One signatory, Abdolsamad Khoramshahi, said: “In our law, nothing has been said about a person who survives hanging after 24 hours. Since the sentence was carried out, there is no reason to repeat the sentence.”
Iran’s interpretation of Sharia law allows for individuals to be spared from a second execution attempt in certain circumstances, like stoning in cases of adultery that fails to result in death.
The law that mandates the death sentence for anyone possessing more than 30 grammes of any illegal drug was passed three years ago. Alireza M was caught with a kilogramme of crystal meth.