A convicted killer in Iran has been saved from public execution at the last possible moment, after the family of the victim decided to spare his life.
Balal Abdullah, now in his 20s, was found guilty of murdering Abdollah Hosseinzadeh during a fight in the street seven years ago when they were both 17.
Abdollah’s mother and father, who have also lost an 11-year-old son to a motorbike accident, had repeatedly asked for Balal’s execution to be delayed until a final date was set for Tuesday this week.
According to the “eye for an eye” ruling of qisas, the sharia law of retribution, the victim’s family were to take an active role in the punishment of their son’s killer – it was expected that they would push away the chair on which he stood.
Screaming for his life, Balal was dragged out to the gallows by officials and had his head placed in the noose.
Yet instead of sealing his fate, Abdollah’s mother slapped Balal’s face and then signalled her forgiveness. The victim’s father then removed the noose.
The extraordinary scenes were captured in a series of photos released by the government-funded news agency Isna. The victim's father, Abdolghani Hosseinzadeh, told the agency that his wife had had a dream three days earlier in which their son told her not to retaliate for his death.
According to reports in the Guardian, he said they reconsidered Balal’s fate, and decided he did not deliberately try to kill their son.
“Abdollah was taking a stroll in the bazaar with his friends when Balal shoved him,” he said. “Abdollah was offended and kicked him but at this time the murderer took an ordinary kitchen knife out of his socks.” He added that Balal was “inexperienced and didn't know how to handle a knife… he was naïve”.
Balal has now been returned to jail – the system of qisas gives victims’ families control over the administering of death penalties, not prison sentences.
The incident has highlighted the controversial practice which sees Iran execute more of its own people than any country other than China.
There is currently a high-profile campaign underway to seek the pardon of a 26-year-old woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, who has been convicted of killing a male member of the Iranian intelligence services.
She has argued that the man was trying to rape her and that she acted in self-defence, and an online petition calling for UN intervention in the matter has been signed by more than 140,000 people.