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Death at the State's Hands ... and the Approving Crowd

by CONTRIBUTOR in New York

30 Sep 2011 23:47Comments


What the media missed during Ahmadinejad's New York tour.

[ comment ] Last week, while most of us were watching Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal's long overdue reunion with their families and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's annual U.N. General Assembly tirade, in the northern Iranian city of Karaj, the Islamic Republic publicly executed a 17-year-old boy.

Iran leads the world in juvenile executions. When they occur, they are normally met with an outcry from the international human rights community as well as significant media attention. Despite a statement of condemnation from four U.N. rapporteurs, the hanging of Ali Reza Molla Soltani attracted very little international coverage.

Was Molla Soltani's execution purposefully scheduled for when the media's focus would be distracted from this grave human rights violation? Was it a ploy by Ahmadinejad's adversaries within the regime to undermine the president during his moment in the global spotlight? Or was the timing an unintended coincidence?

Normally, executions such as these take a while before they are finally carried out. For example, Behnoud Shojaee was convicted of murder for killing another teenager when he intervened in a fight at the age of 17; he was executed four years later at the age of 21. The trial and punishment of Molla Soltani were uncharacteristically quick, perhaps because he killed a famous Iranian strongman, Ruhollah Dadashi (pictured on homepage). In July, Molla Soltani was driving with some friends and got into a traffic altercation with Dadashi during which Molla Soltani stabbed him. According to Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, the judiciary wanted to take advantage of the high-profile case to demonstrate its efficiency and ability to mete out justice.

Another theory of why Molla Soltani was hanged to coincide with Ahmadinejad's U.N. visit was to embarrass him among the world's diplomats. The political infighting between the judiciary, which is largely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the president could have manifested itself in this suspiciously timed execution. Ghaemi doesn't seem to buy into this theory, and given that Ahmadinejad relishes controversy, this might not have been the most effective tactic to embarrass him.

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What is perhaps most disturbing is that 3,000 people came out to watch Molla Soltani hang. But is this peculiar to Iran? Ghaemi reminded me that it wasn't that long ago when white Americans gathered to watch the public lynching of African Americans.

Maziar Bahari, an Iranian Canadian journalist who was arrested following Iran's disputed presidential election in 2009, sees similarities between American and Iranian reactions to executions.

In a talk on Friday at Columbia's School of Journalism, he spoke of how disturbing it was to hear the crowd cheer and applaud when NBC's Brian Williams asked Rick Perry about his state's high record of executions during a GOP presidential debate at the Reagan Library in California.

WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you...


Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

PERRY: No, sir. I've never struggled with that at all...

WILLIAMS: What do you make of...


What do you make of that dynamic that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew applause?

PERRY: I think Americans understand justice. I think Americans are clearly, in the vast majority of -- of cases, supportive of capital punishment.

Many of us have experienced some form of road rage. But what could be the source of a 17-year-old's anger to lead him to stab someone as the result of a traffic dispute? Ghaemi mentioned that executions are also carried out for drug crimes. "They think executions equate with crime fighting, but it doesn't," he said.

Instead of focusing on why the country's teenagers are turning to violence, Iran is exploiting its culture of an eye for an eye under the guise of battling crime. Perry seems to do the same -- instead of asking why there are so many heinous murders in his state, he somehow hears in the cheers for execution a deep appreciation of justice. Perhaps both societies should be taking a deeper look at those in their midst who find satisfaction or even joy in people's deaths.

Copyright © 2011 Tehran Bureau

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