Iranian girl who killed 'rapist' may be spared death penalty

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Hopes have risen for an Iranian teenager sentenced to death for stabbing a would-be rapist, after a panel of Islamic judges declared on the first day of her retrial that she had not committed intentional murder.

The case of Nazanin Fatehi, highlighted in The Independent on Sunday last week, has caused an international outcry. She was sentenced to be hanged a year ago, but a retrial was ordered by Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, head of Iran's religious judiciary, after an Iranian-born singer and former Miss Canada, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, gained more than 300,000 signatories to a petition.

Nazanin Fatehi was 17 when she and her niece, 15, were attacked by three men in a park in Karaj, a town an hour's drive west of Tehran. She stabbed one of the men in the hand and another, who died, in the chest. A third man escaped unharmed. "I wanted to defend myself and my niece," she said at her first trial, when she appeared in court crying, wearing a prison-issue floral chador. "I did not want to kill that boy ... I did not know what to do, because no one came to help us."

The case came back to court on Wednesday, when Ms Fatehi, now 19, was told by the judges that they did not consider the killing to be deliberate. Defence lawyers are confident she will be spared the death penalty, and expect a sentence within 10 days.

Ms Fatehi's defence team, led by the human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr, will make its case this week. Ms Sadr last year helped save Ashraf Kalhori, convicted of murdering her husband, from death by stoning. She also represented the family of Atefeh Rajabi, a 16-year-old girl hanged for "crimes against chastity" in 2004.

The prosecutor and the dead man's family have requested the death penalty under qisas, a category of Islamic law that demands equal punishment for a crime. When the retrial opened, the dead man's family scuffled with Ms Fatehi's father, according to Iranian human rights websites.

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