Death by Self-Defense, Remembering Reyhaneh Jabbari


Posted: 11/04/2015 12:46 pm EST

Sara Hassani

PhD Student and Fellow in Politics

Just over a week ago, October 25th 2015, marked the first anniversary of Reyhaneh Jabbari’s execution. She was 26 years old. Arrested at the age of 19 for what the Iranian authorities called “premeditated murder,” she and her family readily maintained that her actions were in self-defense against a man, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, who had allegedly tried to rape her. While Reyhaneh had already served seven years in prison prior to her hanging, the reason for her eventual fate is simple: Reyhaneh was executed because she was a woman.

At first glance, this assertion might seem far-fetched or even hyperbolic, but I assure you that it is grounded in an uncomfortable reality. To this day, in Iran, a woman’s testimony carries half the official weight a man’s and, in extenuating circumstances, such as the case of a murder trial, a woman’s testimony may not be considered at all. In fact, as the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre reports, “Under some circumstances, relying only on the testimony of women (regardless of the number) can constitute a false accusation.” Therefore, although Reyhaneh, her family, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran Ahmad Shaheed, and organizations like Amnesty International pleaded with the courts in her defense, in accordance with Iran’s Law of Retribution (Qisas), it was ultimately incumbent on her attacker’s family to absolve her of her ‘crimes,’ something they refused to do for Reyhaneh’s insistence that Sarbandi had attempted to rape her.

In a world where women already shoulder a disproportionate burden of proof, most egregiously as it relates to sexual assault and rape, Iranian women are forced to reckon with an almost impossible circumstance. The Iranian judiciary’s refusal to allow due process for Reyhaneh’s painful and heart wrenching case should be read as their decision to execute her for an originary crime – having been born a female. The Iranian government’s message to women in this regard is loud and clear: submit to sexual assault or face retribution. A message that was probably received by Farinaz Khosrawani, a young Iranian woman of Kurdish ethnicity who, on May 4th 2015, jumped to her death from the 4th story window of the Tara Hotel in Mahabad after being aggressed by a hotel guard who allegedly tried to rape her.

Forced to come to terms with her fate, the last few lines of Reyhaneh’s final message verbalize the injustice she had known,

The world did not love us. It did not want my fate. And now I am giving in to it and embrace the death. Because in the court of God I will charge the inspectors, I will charge inspector Shamlou, I will charge judge, and the judges of country’s Supreme Court that beat me up when I was awake and did not refrain from harassing me. In the court of the creator I will charge Dr. Farvandi, I will charge Qassem Shabani and all those that out of ignorance or with their lies wronged me and trampled on my rights and didn’t pay heed to the fact that sometimes what appears as reality is different from it.

Dear soft-hearted Sholeh, in the other world it is you and me who are the accusers and others who are the accused. Let’s see what God wants. I wanted to embrace you until I die. I love you.

One year since Reyhaneh’s untimely death, what remains unclear is the total number of lives we will have lost to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s institutionalized misogyny.

By: Sara Hassani, PhD Student and Fellow at the New School for Social Research

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