Alireza M., 'executed' once, wins reprieve in Iran

Story highlights

  • Man was convicted on drug charge, hanged for 12 minutes, pronounced dead
  • A morgue worker discovered signs of life and alerted doctors
  • Officials say he will not be executed again
  • Rights groups had called for the reprieve
Alireza M. is a lucky man. First, he survived a hanging. Now, he has survived a judicial review over whether he should be hanged again.
Iranian Justice Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi has told Iran's official news agency IRNA that the convict will not be executed again.
Now, the head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, has thrown his weight behind the decision.
"My personal opinion is that the death sentence of the man who came back to life after being executed should be reduced to life in prison," he said Tuesday, according to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.
He added Wednesday, "From the emotional point of view, one of the ways of dealing with the executed man who has seen death and has suffered hardships is to show him mercy. Such a person, who is in a special circumstance, could receive mercy from the Islamic system and I, for reasons of emotional feelings, will definitely do so."
The only person who could challenge him would be the judge, who was not expected to do so.
Convicted by an Iranian court of possessing a kilogram of crystal meth, the 37-year-old man was sentenced to death by hanging at Bojnurd Prison in northeastern Iran, according to Jam-E-Jam, an official newspaper that offered this wince-inducing account:
On the morning of October 9, Alireza M. was taken from his cell to the gallows, where the judge who had issued the order read his sentence aloud and official papers were signed.
Then, a rope was placed around the convict's neck, and he was hanged for 12 minutes, after which his body was lowered and a doctor declared that he was dead. The doctor, the judge and the prison head signed the death certificate, and the body of Alireza M. was taken to a morgue for delivery the following day to his relatives.
But the next day, a worker at the morgue noticed that plastic encasing one of the bodies had steam in front of the mouth.
The worker told doctors at the morgue, who took Alireza M. to Imam Ali hospital in the town of Bojnurd, where he was reported to be feeling better.
Alireza M.'s relatives told the newspaper they had been preparing to pick up the body when they heard that he was still alive, that his daughters had rejoiced and that they were hoping for a reprieve.
But the judge who issued the sentence, Mohammad Erfan, was unmoved. "The sentence is approved, and the sentence is death, so we will follow through with the execution order again," he said last week.
A legal expert cited in the article said a law that mandates the death sentence for anyone possessing more than 30 grams of any illegal drug was passed three years ago.
In a statement, Amnesty International called last week for a reprieve. "The horrific prospect of this man facing a second hanging, after having gone through the whole ordeal already once, merely underlines the cruelty and inhumanity of the death penalty," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program.
"The Iranian authorities must immediately halt Alireza M's execution and issue a moratorium on all others."
This year, Iran is thought to have executed at least 508 people, most of them convicted of drug offenses, the group said.
"Carrying out a second execution on a man who somehow managed to survive 12 minutes of hanging -- who was certified as dead and whose body was about to be turned over to his family -- is simply ghastly. It betrays a basic lack of humanity that sadly underpins much of Iran's justice system," Luther said.
Human Rights Watch opposes execution as an inherently cruel and unusual form of punishment that violates fundamental human rights, said Faraz Sanei, a researcher in the organization's Middle East and North Africa Division.
He said the group is particularly opposed to execution of alleged drug offenders because cases like Alireza M's are tried in revolutionary courts, where violations of due process are common.
In addition, the group considers hangings to constitute torture, he said.
Iran's interpretation of Sharia law allows for individuals to be spared from a second execution attempt in certain circumstances, like stoning in cases of adultery that fails to result in death.
Human rights groups estimate that the Iranian authorities currently hold at least 10 women and men who face possible execution by stoning on adultery charges. At least 70 people have been executed by stoning in Iran since 1980. The last known execution by stoning was in 2009, Sanei said.
But Iranian judiciary officials said last week that there was apparently nothing in law that would prevent Alireza M.'s second execution.
First, there appeared to be support for it. According to the semi-official Mehr News Agency, Ayatollah Saafi Golpayegani, a religious scholar, has written, "If after execution and before burial, while in the morgue, the executed man shows signs of life after being medically treated and regains his health, it is assumed that the verdict of execution will remain unchanged."
But a few days later, he said in a statement superseding his original opinion that if an executed person comes back to life without medical help, he should not be executed again.
According to the U.N.'s 2010 Drug Report, a massive increase in seizures of high-purity crystalline methamphetamine from Iran began in 2008. That same year, for the first time, the country seized four clandestine meth labs.