The Prisoner of Colors
05 May 2009 12:50
On the morning of May 1st in the city of Rasht, Iran, 22-year-old Delara Darabi was hung to death in punishment for a crime she was convicted of as a minor. Her death received far more press coverage in the foreign media than her arrest, sentencing or multiple appeals ever did and marks the end of a largely internet-based human rights campaign that tried desperately to draw attention to her case and pressure the Iranian government to cease executing child offenders.
The facts of the case are murky and disputed. Convicted at the age of 17 of murdering a wealthy relative's wife while trying to rob that relative's house with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Darabi's supporters claim she did not do it. Though she initially confessed to the crime, her lawyer reports that she later recanted, claiming her boyfriend had convinced her she could save his life if she took the blame since she was a minor and he was not. In the end, the court sentenced the boyfriend to ten years in prison and Darabi to death.
Last Friday, the UK's Independent reports, Darabi placed a final phone call to her mother during which she cried out, "Oh mother, I can see the noose." Her death came as a shock even to hardened human rights workers, in part because she had recently won a temporary stay of execution.
Though International law strictly bans the practice, Amnesty International reports that since 1990, more than 70 executions of child offenders have taken place in China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United States and Yemen. Iran and the United States, the rights group points out, have each executed more child offenders than all other countries combined.
With Darabi's death, Iran takes the lead in such executions. Since 1990, Iran has executed 42 child offenders, eight in the last year alone.
And while the statistics are sobering enough on their own, the resonance of the campaign to save Delara Darabi was more visual than numerical. She was a beautiful woman with long and arching eyebrows and a disconcertingly young face. An image of Darabi's sad-eyed profile framed by a gauzy light blue head scarf and posed with her hand to her chin in the manner of Rodin's "The Thinker" illustrates "Save Delara" pleas on Amnesty UK's Web site, an active Myspace page and a site called Stop Child Executions that focuses on Iranian cases.
She was also a visual artist. Darabi's artwork earned her the nickname "Prisoner of Colors" which inspired a short film of the same name intended to attach a human face to an inhuman sentence. Her paintings and dramatic charcoal sketches added emotional shading to the cold legal facts of her case and made the rounds on the Internet in viral videos viewed by thousands, though not tens of thousands.
Tragically, Darabi's death may be the greatest evidence of the impact of these campaigns. Amnesty International and Darabi's supporters believe her premature execution--in addition to violating her two month stay of execution, Iranian law requires public announcement of executions 48 hours before they occur--a malicious and premeditated response to growing public opposition to her sentence.
In response to Darabi's death, Amnesty UK is organizing a public memorial outside the Iranian Embassy in London from 4-6pm tomorrow, Wednesday May 6th. Demonstrators will wear black and lay out flowers to protest this and future child executions in Iran. Other tributes can be found throughout the blogosphere.