A rare last-minute pardon for a convicted killer who was already standing on a chair with a noose around his neck is being discussed passionately among Iranians, particularly because an Iranian news agency captured photos as the dramatic event unfolded.
The man in the noose was identified by British media as Balal who is now in his 20s. Seven years ago, he stabbed 18-year-old Abdollah Hosseinzadeh with a kitchen knife, killing him after they got into a fight.
Iran follows the Shariah system of retribution, or qisas, like the principle of “an eye for an eye.” As the BBC noted, traditionally only the victim’s family is able to issue a pardon from execution.
In keeping with the custom, according to the British newspaper the Guardian, the victim’s family was supposed to take part in Tuesday’s execution by pushing the chair out from under him.
But instead, the mother of the victim slapped Balal in the face, with the noose already on his neck, and said she would forgive him. The victim’s father then removed the noose from Balal’s neck.
The unfolding drama was photographed by Arash Khamooshi of the semi-official Isna news agency and can be seen here.
The photos begin with the image of a solitary chair, awaiting the ascent of the convicted killer. Onlookers watch in anticipation, some with tears in their eyes. The killer, blindfolded with a black strip of cloth, is propped onto the chair, the noose placed over his head. His victim’s mother stands on an adjacent platform to reach his height, slaps him across the face — while the noose is still around this head and the blindfold around his eyes — and then apparently pardons him.
When the noose was peeled off of his neck, the victim’s mother broke down in tears.
One of the photos showed Balal’s mother hugging the victim’s mother, who was overcome with emotion, the Guardian reported.
Later images showed the victim’s parents visiting the cemetery and weeping at his graveside.
The mother’s ability to pardon drew particular praise, as the Guardian pointed out, because she had previously lost another son, Amirhossein, 11, who was killed in a motorbike accident.
The victim’s father, Hosseinzadeh Sr., said that Balal did not intend to kill his son.
"Balal was inexperienced and didn't know how to handle a knife. He was naive,” he was quoted as saying.
The father said that when his wife had a dream days before the scheduled execution, they decided to opt for the pardon. “Three days ago my wife saw my elder son in a dream telling her that they are in a good place, and for her not to retaliate,” Hosseinzadeh Sr. was quoted by the Guardian as saying.
The BBC reported that the images have “spread like wildfire among Iranians on both Facebook and Twitter” in Iran, a country that according to Amnesty International has the highest number of executions after China.
The BBC further noted that commenters on social media in Iran are nearly unanimous in their support of the victim’s parents’ move, using the words “courageous, honorable and moving” to describe their decision.