While school is out for summer, American parents are taking their kids to the movies, amusement parks, local playgrounds and entertainment venues near and far. In Iran, starkly different ideas about what constitutes family fun have prevailed and are now the subject of debate in the Islamic Republic.
In a new study, MEMRI – the Middle East Media Research Institute – reports the tradition of bringing children to watch public hangings is being criticized on some moderate conservative websites that its researchers examined. Even more shocking, this photo from Iranhr.net appears to show a child participating in executing a convict by pulling the chair from under him. TheBlaze is unable to confirm the authenticity of the photos posted online in Iran and publicized for Western eyes by MEMRI.
According to MEMRI’s translators, Jafar Mohammadi who edits what they describe as a moderate conservative website, Asr-e Iran, wrote that the public's appetite to watch executions is “a sign of social sickness,” while he urged authorities to ban the presence of children at an event that could cause them “irreparable damage.” Supporters of the practice insist executions strengthen security in Iran, with one governor even calling for them to be televised. Iran ranks second in the world after China in numbers of citizens executed per year, according to Amnesty International.
An Iranian reporter for Mehr described the almost festive scene leading up to the public execution of four convicted rapists this past spring in Tehran. More than 100 showed up at 10pm the night before to get a good view for an event to which thousands would arrive:
It's four AM, and pouring with rain. [Nevertheless], the streets leading to the place of execution are packed with police cars and with local people who have come to watch the sentence being carried out. The closer we get, the more crowded it is, with youngsters and teenagers forming the majority of spectators.
Website editor Jafar Mohammadi wrote on June 20th:
Now we come to the question that sociologists must address out of concern [for society]: Why does the public hunger to watch executions? This is not the first time [we have seen] the public, in Tehran and other cities, displaying such enthusiasm for execution ceremonies, as if money were being distributed at these [events]. Is the sight of some criminals dying so appealing that people [are willing to] wait from midnight until dawn, even in the rain, and to forgo sleep, just to see them executed, and also film [the event]? Many people even climb onto walls and utility poles so they don't miss a single moment[…]
It makes no sense for a healthy society to exhibit such an intense hunger to watch executions... A father takes his five-year-old daughter or young son, and even buys them ice cream on the way, and then forces them to watch the cruel moments of execution – what sort of message is he giving them?
[Even] if public executions have some benefit, families must be warned about the psychological impact of allowing children and teenagers to watch them. If parents take their children [to executions] out of stupidity, or because they do not know their role [as parents], the police should turn them away from the place of execution – because young children who have committed no crime should not have to witness the scene of death and suffer their whole lives because they saw this unforgettable [sight]. Protecting Iran's children is more important than executing criminals.
Another website Asr-e Emrooz compared bringing kids to executions with violent computer games “marketed as part of [a plot] with destructive Zionist goals”:
There is no doubt that just like violent computer games and horror films, watching the 'live' execution of criminals can have a destructive effect on children and encourage acts of violence on their part. If there is a law against children attending these ceremonies, the relevant officials in charge must tighten supervision and prevent them from [attending them]. If there is no such law, this article will hopefully cause families to exercise more caution, and prompt the regime to pass a new law addressing this problem.
On the other hand, MEMRI quotes the deputy head of the judicial system, Ebrahim Raisi, who suggested the impact on children is one of the factors judges weigh in sentencing:
[The punishment of] public execution is imposed by a judge, who weighs all the aspects, [including] the social climate, before imposing it. According to the police and the intelligence ministry, the firmness of the judicial branch in [combating] social and economic corruption strengthens security in [our] society.
According to Amnesty International, at least 360 Iranians were executed in 2011 for murder, drug trafficking, adultery, sodomy and other offenses – four times the number executed the year before. Among those were at least three minors, which is in violation of international law. Iran has operated under Sharia law since the 1979 revolution. This past June, Iranian media reported that two Iranians were sentenced to death for the repeat offense of drinking alcohol.