'Eye for an eye' acid punishment postponed after outcry
May 16, 2011 2:01pm
The court-ordered blinding of an Iranian man as punishment for throwing acid on a woman who spurned him has been postponed, but heated debate over his crime and such "eye for an eye" punishments continues.
Majid Movahedi was due to be made unconscious in a prison hospital in Tehran on Saturday and acid was to be dropped into his eyes by his victim, Ameneh Bahrami.
Ms Bahrami, a engineer, was blinded and severely disfigured after Movahedi threw a bucket of acid in her face in 2004 for rejecting his marriage proposals. Movahedi was 21 when he assaulted her.
But Movahedi received an 11th-hour reprieve on Friday night, the Iranian news agency ISNA reported.
While Iranian authorities did not say why the sentence was not carried out, the country had been under international pressure to stop it from going ahead.
Groups such as Amnesty International argued that the sentence was "a cruel and inhuman punishment amounting to torture".
But others in Iran feared that "forgiveness", the other legal choice open to Ms Bahrami, would only encourage similar crimes.
"There's no doubt public opinion inside Iran has been stirred up," Iranian women's rights activist Asieh Amini told Time magazine.
"There's been a huge outpouring of sympathy for both of them, and this puts pressure on the government."
Ms Bahrami herself pushed for qesas - a form of retributive justice under Sharia law.
"I've suffered so much in these years but now I am really happy," the 7sobh daily reported her on Saturday as saying, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The verdict is completely legal and I would like to carry it out. But if it is not possible, then the physician designated by the judiciary will do it."
She also told BBC Persian television on Saturday: "I want people like him to know that they will suffer forever if they cause someone such suffering.
"I want him to be punished foremost. But if there are human rights considerations, then I'll accept €2 million and his life imprisonment," Time magazine quoted her as saying.
Iranian-American journalist Azadeh Moaveni wrote in Time that the young woman's case was a "unique dilemma" for Iranian authorities.
"Unlike many human rights cases which excite opinion primarily in the West, it has resonated deeply throughout Iranian society; the attention inside Iran raises the prospect of a public backlash at a time when the regime is deeply divided by political infighting."
Dr Jan Ali, a sociologist in Islam at the University of Western Sydney's School of Humanities and Languages, said the crime was a reflection of the unequal relationship between Iranian men and women.
"There seems to be an attitude among the men in Iran where women are seen as subordinate to men.
"What this highlights is that ... the man saw himself as a masculine male who can treat anyone [in any way]. Unfortunately in this case it happened to be a woman and he expressed a misogynist attitude towards a particular woman.
"Given the history of Iranian society where males have been dominant, I don't see it changing any time soon."
Amini said the legal options of either qesas or "forgiveness" placed Ms Bahrami in a tight spot.
"Bahrami must sit in the place of the judge and either forgive her attacker or take revenge. The legal system pushes her into a dead end, and it's really the law that's deficient here."
Ms Bahrami, who was 26 at the time of the attack, was not told of the postponement and found out about the change only from journalists, the BBC reported.
She travelled to Iran from Spain, where she had undergone 17 operations following the attacks, The Guardian reported.
"I couldn't believe it," she told the BBC after being informed of the postponement. "I think human rights activists are trying to stop me from carrying out the sentence."
It would have been the first time such a sentence was carried out in Iran, AFP reported, quoting 7sobh.
In December, an Iranian court ruled that a man was to lose an eye and an ear after he blinded another man and burnt his ear in an acid attack.
The month before, the Iranian Supreme Court upheld a ruling that ordered a man undergo the same "eye for an eye" punishment, after he blinded his lover's husband by throwing acid in his face.
Neither sentence is known to have been carried out.
In Saudi Arabia in August, a man was sentenced to have his spinal cord severed after he paralysed another man by attacking him with a cleaver.
But doctors charged with carrying out the medical procedure refused to operate on the man, saying "inflicting such harm is not possible".
The last known case where the "an eye for an eye" punishment was carried out was 11 years ago in Saudi Arabia, when an Egyptian had an eye surgically removed for disfiguring another man in an acid attack, the Daily Mail reported.