Women in Iran Deem Rape Laws Unfair

By Shadi Sadr

In Iran, a woman awaits a new execution date for killing the man she
says tried to rape her. There, if a woman is raped, she can be
charged with adultery. If a woman kills her attacker, she can be
charged with murder. Both are punishable by death.

TEHRAN, Iran (WOMENSENEWS)--One week after Afsaneh Nowrouzi learned
that her execution had temporarily been stayed by a Supreme Court
decree, she eagerly anticipated a visit with her husband to
celebrate the news. Convicted for killing the head of security
police on an Iranian island in the Persian Gulf, the 34-year-old
mother of two has spent the last six years in a desolate prison in
southern Iran, despite her claim the man attempted to rape her.

Nowrouzi's husband Mostafa Jahangiri was told  he could have a
private meeting with his wife. But after traveling to the Persian
Gulf port city of Bandar Abbas, where Nowrouzi is being held at the
notorious Bandar Abbas prison, Jahangiri was turned away by prison

Upset by the news, Nowrouzi hit her head repeatedly on the wall of
her cell. A prison guard sprayed her with tear gas to subdue her,
infecting her eyes for almost a week.

Nowrouzi's execution date--most likely by hanging--was set for mid-
October. But after widespread protests by the Iranian press, female
members of parliament and international human rights organizations,
the date was temporarily delayed earlier in the month by Ayatollah
Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the judiciary, which is the highest
court in Iran.

Nowrouzi's attorney has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court for a
new trial. Her stay of execution has turned a spotlight on the
complicated national law, which gives women almost no recourse
against rapists.

In Iran, if a woman is raped, she is considered an adulteress and
faces death by stoning. But if a woman fights off a sexual predator
and kills him, she can then be tried for murder and face death by

If a man is proven to have raped a woman, his punishment is
execution by hanging. But in almost all cases, the man is set free
because judges traditionally look for signs in the behavior and
clothing of the woman in order to explain away the act of rape. A
Persian-language proverb goes like this: "It is the tree that hosts
the worm," meaning rape is caused by women and their suggestive

The penal code, which is based on Iranian interpretations of Islamic
law, states that if a woman injures or kills a rapist in self-
defense, she will not be prosecuted. But proving self-defense is
very difficult. The woman must demonstrate that her defense was
equal to the danger she faced. Additionally, she must prove
inflicting harm was her the last resort in escaping rape. According
to press reports, in the last year one woman successfully argued
self-defense while being tried for murdering an alleged rapist.

The Iranian government does not publish prison records, and there
are no official statistics about the number of women who have been
sentenced to death by stoning for rape. In 2002, the press reported
four cases, but it is generally believed the number is higher.

New Start Becomes Death Sentence
In 1997, Nowrouzi moved with her family to Kish Island, Iran's
tourist spot and free trade zone in the Persian Gulf located about
180 miles from Bandar Abbas. Her husband Jahangiri hoped his friend
Behzad Moghaddam, who held the highest position within the security
police in the island, could help him find a job. The family stayed
at Moghaddam's house.

Shortly after their arrival, Moghaddam arranged for Nowrouzi's
husband to carry some merchandise to Tehran. Many Iranians make a
living by buying imported electronic goods and home appliances from
the island's duty-free shops and selling them at higher prices on
the mainland. According to trial testimony obtained by Women's
eNews, Nowrouzi says that after her husband departed, Moghaddam
attempted to rape her.

"When I went upstairs, I saw Moghaddam naked. He pulled me into the
room and threw himself on top of me," she testified. "As the
children heard noises and walked up the stairs, he gave up his
intention." Nowrouzi says she could not sleep that night and, as a
precaution, hid a knife under her pillow.

In her testimony, Nowrouzi says she wore a skirt and blouse, as well
as a pair of pants underneath her skirt. She says she covered her
hair with a headdress and also wrapped her veil around her waist, a
common practice by traditional women to cover their legs.

She says the next day after finishing a shower, she again found a
naked Moghaddam lying on the bed waiting for her. "I showed him the
knife and told him if he attacked me, I would strike him," Nowrouzi

Nowrouzi says Moghaddam grabbed her, and in defense, she stabbed him
in his chest, torso and face with the knife. According to the local
coroner's office, Moghaddam sustained 34 stab wounds.

Nowrouzi fled the house and took her children to Tehran to join her
husband. When Moghaddam didn't report to work, local police became
concerned and went to his house the next morning, where they
discovered his body. Nowrouzi was arrested in Tehran several days

When asked by the judge why she stayed in the house after
Moghaddam's first rape attempt, Nowrouzi responded, "At 10 o'clock
in the evening where would I go? I didn't know any place. My husband
was absent. I didn't have any money."

Nowrouzi also admitted Moghaddam caught her stealing some of his
jewelry to buy food for her children. She says Moghaddam told her he
would report the theft unless she submitted to his advances. "When
he attacked me, I first warned him that I would report him,"
Nowrouzi said. "He replied to me 'I am the head of police in Kish;
nobody would believe you.'"

Torture, Confessions
During her three-year pretrial investigation, Nowrouzi made several
contradictory confessions. She says that at first, investigators
tried to convince her that her real motive in killing Moghaddam was
stealing his money. "They beat me so much that two times I confessed
against my husband so they would leave me alone," she testified at
her trial in 2000.

Police also theorized that she and the victim had an affair. "They
were beating me with cable wire from morning until noon and again at
night," Nowrouzi said.

Under Iranian law, obtaining confessions from suspects and
defendants under torture is illegal. But few defendants are ever
able to prove they were tortured during detainment. For example,
this year, Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi died while
being interrogated. But a recent special commission that
investigated the charges ruled that Kazemi accidentally hit her head
while in custody.

Judge Mortazavi did not believe Nowrouzi's confessions were obtained
under torture and rejected her self-defense argument. "This woman is
presumptuous and opportunistic," he wrote in his verdict convicting
her of murder.

Now, Nowrouzi waits for news of her appeal. If the Supreme Court
decides to overturn her conviction, she will face a new trial in
another court.

'What Should a Woman Do?'
Golku, a student in her 20s, says all women in Iran feel trapped by
the lack of legal protection they have against rape. "Which of us
does not put a knife in our purse, when we leave our house? All of
us contemplate about how to defend ourselves, if we feel unsafe in a
situation," she writes in her public Web log, an increasingly
popular means for young women in Iran to talk freely and anonymously
about social and political issues.

In an open letter last August, journalist Fereshteh Ghazi, who
writes for the Tehran-based daily Etemad newspaper, told the
presidents of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of
the Islamic government that women who face rape have almost no
recourse under Iranian law.

"What should a woman do, if she found herself in Afsaneh Nowrouzi's
situation?" she asked in her letter.

Sahar Sajjadi, a medical student and member of the Tehran-based
Women's Cultural Center, says women have no control over their own
bodies. "In this country, we cannot discuss this simple concept that
no means no," she said.

Shadi Sadr is an independent journalist residing in Iran, who covers
women's issues. She is also editor in chief of the Web site Women in