By Abdul Hafees
When the media outlets labeled the stance taken by the Iranian government to execute a 26-year-old Iranian woman named, Reyhaneh Jabbari, as one of the many draconian laws of a fundamentalist Islamic Republic, the former judge of this case, Justice Hassan Tardast’s interview with Iran’s Entekhab before the hanging points to some crucial elements in the case, which were underplayed by the international media. (Entekhab somehow removed this interview later from their website, but it was reproduced on other news websites).
It was 2009. Reyhaneh was a 19-year-old interior designer. Sarbandi Abdolali Murtaza, a former member of the Iranian Intelligence Services and a physician, approached her with the promise of a job as part of his office renovation. He picked her up in his car to show his office. On the way, he went to a pharmacy and bought some medicines. And when they reached his apartment, it was reported that he locked the door. Then Sarbandi tried to sexually assault her and Reyhaneh stabbed him using her knife as a self-defense. She was sentenced to death by a criminal court in Tehran in the same year. After a long span of seven years in prison, she was hanged on Friday, October 24, 2014.
Justice Hassan Tardast said that this case was scrutinized and inspected very sensibly by five judges because of its exclusivity. And the twenty-four page verdict was cross-checked by thirteen Supreme Court judges. They unanimously approved the verdict. The court regularly kept in touch with the family of the murdered person and asked them to forgive her. Even though they were ready to grant her apology, they changed their decision when Reyhaneh called their father a ‘rapist’.
According to Justice Tardast, Reyhaneh confessed in the court that she had decided to murder Sarbandi long before the incident. As per the investigation report, Tardast also pointed out that she had sent an SMS to one of her boyfriends in which she mentioned that she would kill someone. Reyhaneh herself admitted in the court that she had also planned to kill her own father for misbehaving with her.
As per her account in the court records, she argued that the door was locked and she somehow managed to escape from the apartment. When the police found out that the door wasn’t locked, they quizzed her further. She changed her version, acknowledging that the door was open. She also said that Mr. Sarbandi had thrown a chair at her after he was stabbed. When she was running away taking the elevator, he tried to chase her taking the stairs. When he reached the second floor, he died. Justice Tardast recalled Reyhaneh saying, “I hid in the street, and waited. When I saw the ambulance and the police, I took a taxi home.”
This apartment has five floors. Even if she cried for help, the neighbors would have definitely heard her. The question arises: why didn’t she shout while she was being raped? The neighbors told the investigation team that the only sound they heard was the noise of a chair thrown somewhere onto the wall.
As mentioned earlier, she was only 19 at the time of the incident and must be considered a fresher in interior designing without any experience. Then why did Mr. Sarbandi choose an inexperienced interior designer as an employee in a country where many other established interior designers are available? Was this only a formal relation between the two?
“I used to give him services in return for benefits,” she said in the court three times, as Justice Tardast mentioned in the interview. He also said that the investigation team found SMSs sent from her mobile phone. These messages revealed that she was in physical relationships with her fiancé, a manager for whom she worked, and some other boyfriends for a long time. “You said goodbye to me when you started sleeping with…dirt. This was my last SMS to you,” was one of the SMSs sent by her fiancé after a dispute between them.
When she was asked how she came to know Mr. Sarbandi, the Iranian woman said that they first met on the way and he picked her up in his Camri car. That’s when they exchanged contact numbers. But after a probe was made into the SMSs sent between the two, it was found that they were in contact a week before he was murdered. Mr. Sarbandi had also picked her up on the very day he was murdered. She got in his car, her friends told, and she lied to them that he was her father’s friend.
Mr. Sarbandi, a physician, dealt in medical instruments. He visited the EU countries regularly for this purpose. In the same interview Justice Tardast explains that he promised her that he would take her with him next time. He didn’t keep his promise. As a result, Reyhaneh was angry with him. Also she had asked him for his car for a picnic with her friends but he didn’t agree. This might be the motif that finally culminated in the murder. ‘I will kill him’, was the SMS she had sent her boyfriend the day before the incident. Next day, when she went to his apartment, he demanded her to take off her scarf. But she refused. Then he went to offer prayer. It appears that Reyhaneh came after him and stabbed with a knife from behind. This is the story told by Reyhaneh in the court.
The investigation team acknowledged her account because they had found blood stains on the bedsheet, where he was offering the prayer. Moreover, he was stabbed from the back side and the injuries were also on his back. Corroborating her account in the court earlier, the investigation team also found that he had bought the medicine, Difinoxilat, and some condoms from a pharmacy. But those condoms were rediscovered by the team from the table in the same room.
Reyhaneh had confessed that a third person was with them at the time of the murder but she never revealed his name. What was his role in this murder?
Justice Tardast further revealed that after a strong appeal of the Supreme Court to the family of Mr. Sarbandi to pardon Reyhaneh, they approached her. They asked her two questions: Who was the third person present? Why did she murder Mr. Sarbandi?
Both remain still unanswered.
“Iranian woman hanged for killing rapist for self-defense,” screamed most of the headlines. Quite interestingly, no one covered an objective, unbiased and two-sided crime report in this case.
Abdul Hafees is studying journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Café Dissensus Everyday.
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