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Iran Exonerates Six Who Killed in Islam’s Name

by Nazi­la Fathi
THE NEW YORK TIMES [1]

TEHRAN, April 18 — The Iran­ian Supreme Court has over­turned the mur­der con­vic­tions of six mem­bers of a pres­ti­gious state mili­tia who killed five peo­ple they con­sid­ered “moral­ly cor­rupt.”

The rever­sal, in an infa­mous five-year-old case from Ker­man, in cen­tral Iran, has pro­duced anger and con­tro­ver­sy, with lawyers call­ing it cor­rupt and news­pa­pers giv­ing it promi­nence.

“The psy­cho­log­i­cal con­se­quences of this case in the city have been great, and a lot of peo­ple have lost their con­fi­dence in the judi­cial sys­tem,” Nemat Ahma­di, a lawyer asso­ci­at­ed with the case, said in a tele­phone inter­view.

Three low­er court rul­ings found all the men guilty of mur­der. Their cas­es had been appealed to the Supreme Court, which over­turned the guilty ver­dicts. The lat­est deci­sion, made pub­lic this week, reaf­firms that rever­sal.

“The objec­tion by the rel­a­tives of the vic­tims is dis­missed, and the rul­ing of this court is con­firmed,” the court said in a one-page ver­dict.

The rul­ing may still not be final, how­ev­er, because a low­er court in Ker­man can appeal the deci­sion to the full mem­ber­ship of the Supreme Court. More than 50 Supreme Court judges would then take part in the final deci­sion.

Accord­ing to the Supreme Court’s ear­li­er deci­sion, the killers, who are mem­bers of the Basi­ji Force, vol­un­teer vig­i­lantes favored by the country’s supreme leader, Aya­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, and Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ahmadine­jad, con­sid­ered their vic­tims moral­ly cor­rupt and, accord­ing to Islam­ic teach­ings and Iran’s Islam­ic penal code, their blood could there­fore be shed.

The last vic­tims, for exam­ple, were a young cou­ple engaged to be mar­ried who the killers claimed were walk­ing togeth­er in pub­lic.

Mem­bers of the Basi­ji Force are known for attack­ing reformist politi­cians and pro-democ­ra­cy meet­ings. Pres­i­dent Ahmadine­jad was a mem­ber of the force, but the Supreme Court judges who issued the rul­ing are not con­sid­ered to be specif­i­cal­ly affil­i­at­ed with it.

Iran’s Islam­ic penal code, which is a par­al­lel sys­tem to its civic code, says mur­der charges can be dropped if the accused can prove the killing was car­ried out because the vic­tim was moral­ly cor­rupt.

This is true even if the killer iden­ti­fied the vic­tim mis­tak­en­ly as cor­rupt. In that case, the law requires “blood mon­ey” to be paid to the fam­i­ly. Every year in Iran, a senior cler­ic deter­mines the amount of blood mon­ey required in such cas­es. This year it is $40,000 if the vic­tim is a Mus­lim man, and half that for a Mus­lim woman or a non-Mus­lim.

In a long inter­view with the Iran­ian Stu­dent News Agency, a Supreme Court judge, Moham­mad Sadegh Al-e-Eshagh, who did not take part in this case, sought Wednes­day to dis­cour­age vig­i­lante killings, say­ing those car­ried out with­out a court order should be pun­ished.

At the same time, he laid out exam­ples of moral cor­rup­tion that do per­mit blood­shed, includ­ing armed ban­dit­ry, adul­tery by a wife and insults to the Prophet Muham­mad.

“The roots of the prob­lems are in our laws,” said Moham­mad Seifzadeh, a lawyer and a mem­ber of the Asso­ci­a­tion for Defend­ers of Human Rights in Tehran. “Such cas­es hap­pen as long as we have laws that allow the killer to decide whether the vic­tim is cor­rupt or not. Iron­i­cal­ly, such laws show that the estab­lish­ment is not capa­ble of bring­ing jus­tice, and so it leaves it to ordi­nary peo­ple to do it.”

The rul­ing stems from a case in 2002 in Ker­man that began after the accused watched a tape by a senior cler­ic who ruled that Mus­lims could kill a moral­ly cor­rupt per­son if the law failed to con­front that per­son.

Some 17 peo­ple were killed in grue­some ways after that view­ing, but only five deaths were linked to this group. The six accused, all in their ear­ly 20s, explained to the court that they had tak­en their vic­tims out­side the city after they had iden­ti­fied them. Then they stoned them to death or drowned them in a pond by sit­ting on their chests.

Three of the fam­i­lies had giv­en their con­sent under pres­sure by the killers’ fam­i­lies to accept finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion, said Mr. Ahma­di, the lawyer.

Such killings have occurred in the past. A mem­ber of the secu­ri­ty forces shot and killed a young man in 2005 in the sub­way in Karaj, near Tehran, for what he also claimed was immoral behav­ior by the vic­tim.

A judge caused out­rage in 2004 in Neka, in the north, after he issued a death sen­tence for a 16-year old girl for what he said were chasti­ty crimes. After the sum­ma­ry tri­al, he had her hanged in pub­lic imme­di­ate­ly, before the nec­es­sary approval from the Supreme Court.

Nei­ther man has been pun­ished.

“Such laws are not accept­able in our soci­ety today,” said Hos­sein Nejad Malay­eri, the broth­er of Gho­lam­reza Nejad Malay­eri, who was killed by the group in Ker­man. “That means if some­body has mon­ey, he can kill, and claim the vic­tim was cor­rupt.”