“In the Summer of 2003 my father went to the city of Kazerun to visit a relative who was ill. On the way back, two soldiers and two other people hitched a ride with my father. On the way they told my father that they were waiting for a friend. The defendant in the back seat hit my father in the back of his head with a large rock. The rest of them said that they should leave him there and get away with the car. The defendant in the back seat who was a soldier did not agree with this decision. They threw my father in the trunk of the car. 40 kilometers later, my father regained consciousness and signaled for them to stop the car. They stopped the car and they informed my father that they only want the car and that they do not want to hurt him. They drove on a remote road for another five kilometers before they opened the trunk and beat my father with rocks and sticks they were carrying. At that moment Mohammad Reza Haddadi took out a fan belt from the back of the car, put his feet on my father’s shoulders, wrapped the belt around my father’s neck, and choked him to death. Then they doused my father with gasoline and lit a match into his mouth. They burned his body and buried him. With the help of one of the defendants, we found my father’s body after 54 days.”
These are the words of Mohammad Rahmat, the son of the victim of the case involving Mohammad Reza Haddadi. In less than 72 hours the execution in the case of the victim, Mohammad Bagher Rahmat, is going to take place.
Reading between the lines of Mohammad Rahmat, as a representative of his family, it is evident that his family is willing to forgive. But in the minds of the family, some past actions have created doubts about the judiciary carrying out justice against the perpetrators of the case, and this has prevented the family from forgiving the defendant. (In Iranian law, if the family forgives the defendant, he or she can be pardoned).
One look at the words of Mohammad Rahmat below proves this point. We have promised him to fully print and distribute his words.
Before I am able to ask any questions, Mohammad Rahmat began, “Mohammad Reza Haddadi was over 18 years of age when he committed this crime. I have no doubt about it. His height was 185 centimeters and he had a huge build. His birth certificate that was from a village where his father had married several times cannot be an accurate document to prove his age.”
I asked him about his family and his father and how they have managed to live after his father’s murder. Mohammad Rahmat replied, “We are five children. Including my mother, we are six people in total. I am not the eldest [child] but [my siblings] gave me the power of attorney to follow the case in court. We do not have financial problems. My father was not the only bread winner of the family, but people of the older generation have a custom that they do not like to sit at home. My father continued working for enjoyment. He drove a truck. My brother is a doctor. In comparison to Iran’s current conditions, our financial situation is above average.”
The Rahmat family talked about the media and human rights activists whom they believe have distributed “unreal news.” I asked him if any human rights activist has ever contacted him or tried to convince the family to forgive Mr. Haddadi.
He replied, “We have had some contacts from human rights activists but it was all communicated to us through Mohammad Reza Haddadi’s lawyer. This has angered us even more.” The murderer’s family, according to what they were told, declared that their son did not kill anyone. He added, “Then newspapers printed false articles that only caused us to be more irritated. Nobody ever came to ask us for forgiveness.”
The family and the lawyer for Mohammad Reza Haddadi stated that he was set up and, because of his age, he is paying for the sin of others. I asked the Rahmat family, “What is your opinion? Do you believe the Qesas (eye for an eye ) punishment should be carried out or should justice be carried out?”
He replied, “It’s not important for us that someone should necessarily be punished through Qesas. It is just important for us that the culprits be punished. [Haddadi] admitted guilt in the first days. Then, while in jail, he wrote a letter stating that he was set up and that three other people had offered to pay him money and find him a wife. That is why he had previously confessed. We gave his letter and his words to the judge. The judge rejected it. We then asked the judge again to interrogate him once more just to make sure that he was not innocent. I was present there myself. They brought in Mohammad Reza. I have his letter too. In the interrogation room they asked him about it and he said, “No. It was me who did it but I regret it.” He then went to court and, the next day, he wrote another letter stating he was set up. He was playing games with everyone. I have all his confessions. For example the amount of money that he stated he was offered differed in each confession. In one confession he stated he was offered two million (Tomans). In another confession, he stated it was five million (Tomans), and yet in another confession, he claimed it was 20 million (Tomans). That is why it is clear to me that he is the one who did it. In addition, he has repeated the story to his cell mates and told him that he is the one who committed the murder and that he regrets it.”
At this point a letter of forgiveness from the [victim’s] family is the only way to prevent the execution. I asked him what has been done so far to convince him to sign the letter of forgiveness? He replied, “His family came to us. His family lives in a village. They came here and threatened us that if they execute him, they will do such and such. Of course, we reacted to the threats.”
There are three other defendants in this case. The other three defendants have been sentenced to long prison terms. It is worth noting that the three other prisoners who had a hand in the murder are allowed prison leaves, and thus, they are considered to be ’semi-free’ prisoners.
I told Mohammad Rahmat that one of the reasons why human rights activists oppose this type of punishment is because ‘real justice’ has not been carried out in the case. I asked him his opinion. He stated, “If we had laws like some states in the United States where the accused could be sentenced to long prison terms, then we could forgive on the punishment of execution- that would be a real prison term. Otherwise, the defendant dies instantly in an execution. Unfortunately our prisons in Iran are not like that. They give ‘leaves’ and ‘breaks’ to prisoners every day. If these people go on a prison leave, they could cause problems for our family.”
He continued, “The defendant in the second row is sentenced to thirty one and a half years in prison for the crime of kidnapping, the defendant in the third row is sentenced to 26 years in prison, and they are all involved in the kidnapping. We have a short letter from Mr. Shahroudi (former head of judiciary) and another letter from Mr. Larijani (current head of judiciary) that request for prison leaves to not be allowed so our family does not get harassed. We know that the officials are not capable of keeping these people in jail. Every day we have to write a letter and bicker about it. We have no choice. We have called the police many times when these people come to our house. The police has written reports. We even changed our house once, but they found our address again and threatened us.”
I asked Rahmat to explain in more detail about the prison leaves. He explained, “Two of the three defendants who were sentenced to long prison terms are considered to be ‘free willing’ prisoners. This means that they can go free in the evenings and on Thursdays and Fridays. What kind of a situation is this? If letters by the heads of the judiciary matter, then these prisoners must remain in prison. The prison officials who allow the leaves must be punished. Someone has to investigate this.”
I then asked Mohammad Rahmat that if he is assured these prisoners cannot leave prison and will receive real punishments, would that be enough to forgive the defendant?
He responded, “I am certain that if I forgive on the Qesas punishment, the prisoners will not remain in jail on a long-term basis without leave. If I had seen even one case where a 30-year term prisoner remained in prison without leave, I would say fine, let the defendant spend the rest of his life in prison. But one cannot try what has been tried before. In Iran, the best punishment is Qesas. We cannot forgive and then tremble with fear for the rest of our lives. For the past year and a half, there have been no threats from the accused.”
According to published reports, the execution sentence will be carried out for Mohammad Reza Haddadi on Wednesday morning.
Although Mohammad Mostafaei, the lawyer for Mohammad Reza Haddadi, has denied this, I asked Rahmat about it. He responded, “I neither deny nor confirm the news of execution on Wednesday. This sentence could be carried out on any Wednesday. Once they told us that he was about to get executed, we asked his family to go visit their son for the last time. At this point I have nothing to say regarding whether it will be carried out on Wednesday.”
As I reminded him of his own words that the family of the accused has so far not done what the victim’s family has requested, I asked whether they would be willing to forgive if the family of the accused came forward and asked for forgiveness.
He responded, “Usually people ask for forgiveness in a nice way. Nobody comes to ask for forgiveness with threats. At this point I give no chance for forgiving him. This family, with the shedding of crocodile tears and their threats and harassments, has left us no choice. We were expecting to be treated nicely during this time. Until a little while ago, nobody had even contacted us. Then his lawyer Mr. Mostafaei contacted me. He was supposed to contact me to ask for forgiveness. But the only thing he did was to publish false news in the papers and websites and this really irritated us. Once I asked Mr. Mostafaei to publish a letter of apology to our family by the accused. Even though he had close contacts with the media, he refused to do so. If he had come to us and had admitted to the murder and had apologized and if he had regretted it, things would be different. But now that [Mohammad Reza] continues to deny the murder and insists otherwise in his confessions, he is insulting our intelligence.”
I asked Mr. Rahmat to put his father’s murder aside and tell me whether he believes in capital punishment and whether it is the right type of punishment. He replied, “I would be against capital punishment for someone who had killed another person and if in Iran we had true life sentences. But this is not the case. Therefore, I find capital punishment to be the better choice.”
I asked Mohammad Rahmat whether any judicial officials have asked his family to forgive on the Qesas punishment. Mohammad Rahmat replied, “No. Judicial officials have so far asked us to forgive on the Qesas punishment. It may be that one official in an office somewhere might have asked us but the judicial officials have not made any such requests. Even the judge in the case told us that he has never had a case where the accused people were so cruel. The agents who had pulled my father’s body from under the rubble were all nauseated and could not look at him. This is because they made terrible blows to his body.”
At the end I asked Mohammad Rahmat that, if possible, to please forgive on the Qesas punishment. I reminded him that executions in any form cannot be just. I told him that human rights activists do not oppose punishments, they seek justice. Human rights activists do not know Haddadi and they do not look at this on a personal level. They are concerned about capital punishment itself. I told him that I will contact him again to ask for forgiveness and ask him if he has anything to add.
He replied, “If Mohammad Reza Haddadi is executed, I blame it on the human rights activists who have irritated us. I like to ask all human rights activists that if they are seeking justice, they should publish a current picture of Mohammad Reza Haddadi to show his real age. The picture printed on all websites belongs to eight years prior to the murder. It is the responsibility of those who publish news to put out correct information. Every time my family sees that picture, they get upset. We are an educated family. We do not like capital punishment ourselves. But with the current situation in Iran, we are left with no choice. We know that long-term prison sentences without leave do not happen in Iran. If there was only one stab wound on my father causing his death, maybe I could have forgiven. But their actions, the blows, the burning of his body, and the burying all took a few hours and shows their heartless cruelty.”