In Light of Reyhaneh Jabbari: Death Penalty – The Most Premeditated of Murders?

BY LAUREN GALLAGHER – “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty…I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg[1]

Despite an international campaign urging a reprieve, twenty-six-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged Saturday morning in a Tehran prison after being convicted of killing Abdolali Sarbandi.[2]  In 2007, Jabbari allegedly killed Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry, after he attempted to sexually abuse her.[3]  Her conviction was heavily based on confessions made while under duress.[4]

Once arrested, Jabbari was placed in solitary confinement and tortured for two months without access to her family or a lawyer.[5]  Although Jabbari admitted to stabbing Sarbandi once in self-defense, the government held that her claim had not been proven in court. [6]  Furthermore, she alleged that another individual responsible for the killing was present, but refused to identify that individual.[7]  It was reported that in attempt to prevent an investigation of Jabbari’s claims, she was pressured by Iran’s judicial authorities to replace her lawyer with a less experienced one.[8]

Many organizations have spoken out regarding concerns of unfairness during Jabbari’s trial.[9]  As a result, Jabbari received overwhelming support on social media that appears to have helped bring a temporary stay in execution when her hanging was postponed from its original date of September 30.[10]  Unfortunately, Jabbari was not granted a reprieve mainly because her family did not gain consent from the victim’s relatives.[11]

International standards for a fair trial are designed to protect individuals from the unlawful violation of basic rights and freedoms.[12]  Under Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), “everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”[13]

General standards include obtaining “more information about the conduct of the trial, the nature of the case against the accused and the legislation under which s/he is being tried.”[14]  Furthermore, “general background information about the political and legal circumstances leading to the trial and possibly affecting its outcome” should be collected.[15]

It is quite evident in this case that Jabbari was not afforded the above guarantees.  Jabbari’s claims regarding the presence of another individual were never properly investigated; and as a result, there are doubts as to the circumstances of the killing.[16]  Furthermore, the basis of her conviction was a confession elicited from torture and government pressure without the presence of a lawyer.[17]

In addition, pressure from judicial authorities to remove Jabbari’s lawyer from her case disrupted proper investigation.[18]  The media frenzy could have also played a significant role in the outcome of the case in which Jabbari ultimately accused Sarbandi of being an attempted rapist.  After a highly publicized social media campaign, it is no surprise that when her family reached out to his for reprieve, his family insisted on their legal right of “an eye for an eye” under the Islamic principle.[19]

“Individuals charged with crimes punishable by death are entitled to the strictest observance of all fair trial guarantees,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.[20]  Instead, Jabbari was hanged after questionable access to her lawyer, poor investigation into the actual circumstances of the killing, and a lack of evidence.  Due to the procedural and substantive issues raised, Jabbari should have been granted a retrial in order to comply with international trial standards. Pursuant to compliance with these standards, a conviction would not have been the result of a flawed trial with unanswered questions.

Amnesty International, an organization of individuals who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights, said that her execution was “deeply disappointing in the extreme.” [21]  This flawed investigation is a huge set back for Iran’s human rights record.  Jabbari is now added to the number of people put to death in Iran this year, which has caused a global rise in executions.[22]

The recent worldwide trend over the past twenty years has been a decline in executions, with the exception of 2013.[23]  “Only a small number of countries carried out the vast majority of these senseless state-sponsored killings. They can’t undo the overall progress already made towards abolition,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general.[24]

Although the long-term trend indicates that the death penalty is becoming a thing of the past,[25] these set backs do not seem to have an end in sight.  Of the twenty-two countries that conducted executions in 2013, it is estimated that at least 369 individuals were killed in Iran.[26]  As a result, Iran conducted the highest number of executions, only behind China whose number regarding executions remains unreported since the use of the death penalty is considered a state secret.[27]  However, information strongly suggests that China carries out more executions than the rest of the world combined.[28]

According to the United Nations, at least 250 people have been executed in Iran this year.[29]  It seems only time will tell if this number will surpass last year’s and continue the unfortunate trend of an increase in executions worldwide.  Overall, the aftermath of Jabbari’s execution will most likely not help Iran gain trust with other members of the international community.  These numerous executions and reports of injustice not only interfere with the overwhelming progress made in the area of the death penalty worldwide, but also lead one to conclude that Iran did not comply with international standards for a fair trial.

[1] Statements on the Death Penalty by Supreme Court Justices, Death Penalty Information Center, (last visited Oct. 25, 2014).

[2] Iran’s Hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari Condemned,BBC, (last updated Oct. 25, 2014).

[3] Id.

[4] Jessica Elgot, Iran’s Execution of Young Woman Reyhaneh Jabbari is ‘Bloody Stain’ on Nation, Says Amnesty, The Huffington Post UK, (last updated Oct. 25, 2014).

[5] Iran’s Hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari Condemned, supra note 2.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Iran: Halt Execution of Woman Set to be Hanged at Dawn,Amnesty International, (Oct. 24, 2014),

[9] Iran’s Hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari Condemned, supra note 2.

[10] Id.

[11] Iran’s Hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari Condemned, supra note 2.

[12] Lawyers Comm. for Human Rights, What is a Fair Trial? A Basic Guide to Legal Standards and Practice 1 (2000), available at

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 2.

[15] Id.

[16] Iran Must Halt Imminent Execution of 26-Year-Old Woman,Amnesty International, (Sept. 29, 2014),

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Elgot, supra note 4.

[20] Iran Must Halt Imminent Execution of 26-Year-Old Woman, supra note 16.

[21] Iran’s Hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari Condemned, supra note 2.

[22] Iraq and Iran Trigger Global Spike in Executions,BBC, (last updated Mar. 27, 2014).

[23] Id.

[24] Death Penalty 2013: Small Number of Countries Trigger Global Spike in Executions,Amnesty International, (Mar. 27, 2014),

[25] Amnesty Int’l, Death Sentences and Executions 2013 33 (2014), available at

[26] Iraq and Iran Trigger Global Spike in Executions, supra note 22.

[27] Amnesty Int’l, supra note 25, at 2.

[28] Id.

[29] AFP and Brett Logiurato, Iran Hangs Woman for Killing Alleged Rapist, Business Insider, (Oct. 25, 2014),

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