NEW: U.S. State Department condemns execution, questions fairness of trial
Woman was sentenced to death for the 2007 killing of a former intelligence ministry employee
Rights group says she was sexually assaulted and killed her attacker in self-defense
It says she was convicted of murder after "a flawed investigation and unfair trial"
An Iranian woman convicted of murder – in a killing that human rights groups called self-defense against a rapist – was hanged Saturday, state news agency IRNA reported.
Reyhaneh Jabbari, 26, was sentenced to death for the 2007 killing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that the killing was an act of self-defense against a rapist and that Jabbari never received a fair trial.
“There were serious concerns with the fairness of the trial and the circumstances surrounding this case, including reports of confessions made under severe duress,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Saturday.
“We condemn this morning’s execution in Iran of Reyhaneh Jabbari, an Iranian woman convicted of killing a man she said she stabbed in self-defense during a sexual assault,” Psaki said.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International said in a statement that Jabbari had been transferred to a prison where, according to a message from her mother on Facebook, she was set to be executed on September 30.
Amnesty International said Jabbari was convicted of murder after “a flawed investigation and unfair trial.” The United Nations and international human rights groups have taken up Jabbari’s cause.
The U.N. has said Sarbandi hired Jabbari – then a 19-year-old interior designer – to work on his office. Jabbari stabbed Sarbandi after he sexually assaulted her, the U.N. has said.
Jabbari was held in solitary confinement without access to her lawyer and family for two months, Amnesty International said in a statement. She was tortured during that time.
“Amnesty International understands that, at the outset of the investigation, Reyhaneh Jabbari admitted to stabbing the man once in the back, but claimed she had done so after he had tried to sexually abuse her,” the rights group said. “She also maintained that a third person in the house had been involved in the killing. These claims, if proven, could exonerate her but are believed never to have been properly investigated, raising many questions about the circumstances of the killing.”
Iranian Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi has joined scores of Iranian artists and musicians calling for a halt to the execution. In an open letter, Farhadi asked the victim’s family to pardon Jabbari.
Rights groups have criticized the Islamic Republic of Iran for a surge in executions under Hassan Rouhani, in his first year as President.
UK Foreign Office Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said he was “very concerned and saddened” that Jabbari had been executed, especially given the questions concerning due process in the case.
“The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, noted that her conviction was allegedly based on confessions made while under threat, and the court failed to take into account all evidence into its judgment,” he said in a statement.
“Actions like these do not help Iran build confidence or trust with the international community. I urge Iran to put a moratorium on all executions.”
According to the United Nations, Iran has executed at least 170 people this year. In 2013, Iran executed more people than any other country with the exception of China, the world’s most populous nation.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking in July, said the death penalty has no place in the 21st century and urged all countries to work toward its abolition.
CNN’s Ben Brumfield and Reza Sayah contributed to this report.