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No mercy for Iranian execution survivor

By Tom Watkins, CNN
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Sat October 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hanged for 12 minutes, Alireza M. is declared dead
  • Official papers are signed, and the body goes to a morgue
  • But steamed plastic reveals that he is alive
  • The judge is unmoved

(CNN) -- For now, Alireza M. is a lucky man. But, like life itself, that may not last.

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 his neck and he was hanged for 12 minutes, after which his body was lowered and a doctor declared he was dead. The doctor, the judge and the prison head then signed the death certificate, and the body of Alireza M. was taken to a morgue for delivery the following day to his relatives.

Iran's assault on civil society

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 the 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 family 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.

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 issued Wednesday, Amnesty International called 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," said Luther.

The organization 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, which tend to include violations of due process,

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 say there is apparently nothing in law that would prevent Alireza M. from being executed again.

Others have a different interpretation. According to the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency, Ayatollah Saafi Golpayegani said Saturday -- a high-ranking cleric who was being pressed on his position -- said, "If a person is executed for drug smuggling and returns to life, his second execution is not allowed."

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.

CNN's Neda Farshbaf and Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.

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