The Missing Character in the Reyhane Jabbari Case

خردمندان نصيحت ميكنندم

كه سعدى چون دهل بيهوده مخروش

وليكن تا به چوگان ميزنندش

دهل هر گر نخواهد ماند خاموش

The wise advise me,

“Sa’adi, don’t make noise like a drum”

But so long as the drum is beaten,

It will not be silent.

At the dawn of October 25th, Gohardasht prison performed an execution that would take the prison’s estranged status in the west of Tehran to a haunting purlieu strangling the country’s determination. Reyhane Jabbari, a woman who had ostensibly murdered her sexual abuser, Morteza Sarbandi, was hanged by the order of Sarbandi’s family – who refused to grant her reprieve.

Jabbari had been in prison and solitary confinement since 2009, when she was convicted of first-degree murder. After reportedly confessing to the murder of Sarbandi, Jabbari’s case then depended entirely on her ability to prove self-defense. The evidential value of a plastic bag of condoms purchased on the way to Sarbandi’s home, alongside the sedatives strategically placed in Jabbari’s drink, was declared small in confrontation with Jabbari’s earlier purchase of a 10-inch knife and SMS to one of her friends, two days before the murder, which read “I think I might kill him.” Either referring to her drunken father or Sarbandi, the message’s salient violence left Sarbandi’s family touting premeditated murder.

Iran’s judicial operation under qisaas, or retribution, is often a misunderstood one – retribution is not granted to a family of victims until the court scours the legitimacy of it. Even after the family is afforded the right to retribution, a team of officials beseech forgiveness on behalf of the perpetrator. Former Chief Justice, Mahmoud Shahroudi, famously implored Ameneh Bahrami after she was blinded by an acid attack carried out by Majid Movahedi, so not to further mar Iran’s international image. Though, Bahrami only chose forgiveness at the very last second.

In a system where the victims do the deciding, the lines are drawn at different borders. Agitated by the international portrait of their son as a rapist, Sarbandi’s family offered to exchange reprieve with the “truth” — defined as 1) what Jabbari’s real reason for murder was and 2) the identity of an aforementioned third-party whom Jabbari refers to as “Sh.”

Knowing this, the tempestuous nature of qisaas is not so much the issue in place as is the status of Morteza Sarbandi, who was a former intelligence officer. For one, this, coupled with his elite background, granted him a prerogative in the court that Jabbari could not amount to. And on both the defendant and the plaintiff’s side, this prerogative may very well have inspired the neglect of the unnamed third party involved, which Jabbari introduced later in the trial as the man responsible.

I have a hard time believing a 19-year old woman with a knife is physically capable of murdering a 47-year old physician who was formerly in the Ministry of Intelligence — simply because the latter assumes higher levels of defense-handling. I have an even harder time believing one person is responsible for stab wounds both in the posterior and the upper-body in the portrait drawn of both Jabbari’s and Sarbandi’s respective positions. Medical evidence indicating sporadic stab wounds can only so clearly suggest that these punctures were not done single handedly, especially when lining contiguously with Jabbari’s assertion that she had already left the apartment before any further stabbings. I’d also imagine Sarbandi’s last words screaming “thief!” could not possibly apply to Reyhane Jabbari, but the third-party.

Jabbari, then, is not only the victim to a potential rape but also a ploy. The increasingly tasteless arguments that Jabbari could have chosen other alternatives in the spur of the moment or that she is immune to rape because of the “services and benefits” relationship she had with Sarbandi is not only insensitive to a woman in her position, upholding a crisp holier than thou pacifism and deranged definition of rape, but is also dangerously incomplete. Jabbari’s reluctance to even mention the third-party’s involvement echoes her fear of revealing his name, and Sarbandi’s background as an intelligence officer easily evinces the likelihood of handfuls of enemies. The lack of further investigation into this third-party’s involvement runs an embarrassing failure in Iran’s attempt to mete out justice.

With punishments as severe as execution, trials have a responsibility to be whole and impartial, so not to rid the innocent of their right to life. The entirety of “innocent until proven guilty” is intended to protect just that. Such an interpretation of qisaas can deafen the degree of its compensation – and the callous neglect of Sarbandi’s past deems this trial incomplete. It is a shame that an incomplete trial has now been matched with a complete execution.