Retrial for girl due to hang for killing rapist

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The Independent Online

A 19-year-old girl sentenced to death by hanging in Iran last year is to be retried on Wednesday after a Canadian singer launched an international campaign to save her.

Nazanin Fatehi was sentenced to death a year ago, on 3 January 2006, after admitting having stabbed to death one of three men who tried to rape her and a 16-year-old relative. She was 17 at the time.

The pop singer and former Miss Canada Nazanin Afshin-Jam learnt of her case and has since become the figurehead of the campaign to have her freed. "The injustice of the story horrified me," said Ms Afshin-Jam, the runner-up to the 2003 Miss World title who left Iran when she was two. "I couldn't believe that a victim of attempted rape was being charged as a criminal."

According to the Iranian daily newspaper Etemaad, Ms Fatehi and her niece were in a park in Karaj, just outside of Tehran, with their boyfriends when they were approached by three men. The boys fled after the men pushed the girls to the floor. Ms Fatehi then drew a knife and stabbed one man in the arm and another in the chest, killing him.

If she had allowed the men to rape her and her niece, the girls would have been subjected to 100 lashes under Iranian laws on chastity. If they had been married at the time they were raped they would likely have been found guilty of adultery and sentenced to death by stoning.

Ms Afshin-Jam, said: "Nazanin didn't have an option, she didn't have a voice so I was going to try and be that voice for her."

Since she took up the case last year, 232,492 signatures have been delivered to the Iranian government, and a trust fund set up which has enabled Ms Fatehi to have access to one of the best lawyers in the country. The young woman's sentence was stayed in June last year and a retrial ordered. The first stage of this was held last August, and the case continues on Wednesday. If it upholds the first verdict, it will need to be approved formally by Iran's Supreme Court.

Under Iranian law, self-defence is a valid defence in a murder trial, but its application depends largely on the circumstances. Negar Azmudeh, a Canadian lawyer who has previously spoken out on Ms Fatehi's case, said that the fact that she and her niece were in a park in the evening may have some bearing on whether the defence is considered valid.

Ms Azmudeh cited a case where a woman was prosecuted for injuring her boss as he tried to rape her at work: "Because she had showed up at work on a Friday [a weekend day in Iran] they could not claim 'self-defence' because her presence at the office on a Friday when she knew the boss was there constituted her 'invitation' to be raped."

Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Charter of the Rights of the Child, which prohibit the execution of anyone under 18. But there are records of 18 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990. In 2005 alone, at least eight executions of children were recorded.

Iranian authorities have for the past four years been considering a law prohibiting the death penalty for offenders under 18. A recent BBC documentary revealed how on 15 August 2004 Atefeh Rajabi, 16, was hanged in Neka, about 100 miles from Tehran, for "engaging in acts incompatible with chastity". Her age given in court documents was 22.

Recent speeches by a judiciary spokesman suggest that the new law would only cover crimes that are not qisas, covered by the law of retaliation, which applies in murder cases, as this is considered to be a private, rather than a state matter. Under this arrangement, the court can allow the death sentence to be commuted if the relatives of the victim allow the accused to pay them dieh, a financial compensation, literally "blood money".

Under Iranian law, the value of a man's life is twice as great as that of a woman. "A man who had killed a woman could not get the death penalty unless the victim's family paid him a female person's worth of dieh," Ms Azmdeh said. "This way, the victim's life plus the amount of dieh, would be equal to a full person, ie, a man's life."

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