January 16, 2019

Convicted Murderers Receive Reduced Sentences Because of Their Victim’s Religion

A core precept of justice in America and around the world is the simple concept of “equal justice under the law.” However, not all countries follow this model.  In Iran, equality and justice are secondary, determined by your religion rather than your rights.

A recent trial involving robbery, murder and conspiracy reveals the depth of the problem.

Following six years of investigation and trials, three murderers accused of robbery and murder of a 64 year-old Jewish man in Tehran, known as “Hatef,” were handed their sentences by the Iranian judiciary. According to the Iranian Penal Code which is influenced by Islamic tradition, the typical punishment for murder is death by hanging or life imprisonment. However, the same code prescribes that the life of an individual outside of the Islamic faith is not equal to the value. As such, the three men who were convicted of a brutal homicide were sentenced to up to 20 years and lashes, an extremely light conviction in light of the brutality of the crime.

One of the convicted murderers, known as “Houman” was a neighbor of the targeted victim and reportedly knew him for years. Houman allegedly hatched the scheme and recruited the others to assist him. During the course of a home invasion, the elderly Hatef was bound to a chair. In his testimony, one of the convicts expressed regret about this situation and confessed that he had suggested that they release the man before exiting the property. However the suggestion was ignored and Hatef, who lived alone, decidedly was left to die in his own home.

In the subsequent weeks, Houman allegedly contacted his partners, informing them of the foul smell of the victim’s decomposing corpse. They reentered the property and disposed of the body. According to the testimony of one of the perpetrators, Houman then developed a new plot to purchase the victim’s property by engaging a man who resembled him. Months later when the victim’s relatives inquired about him, they learned that Hatef no longer lived there and were handed escrow papers by the new owner, documents that confirmed the sale of his property.

Following years of police investigations and trials, the judiciary branch reviewed the case. Reportedly, Hatef’s nephew had demanded justice and punishment for the perpetrators. Despite a series of confessions and considerable corroborating evidence, the perpetrators were given light sentences simply because the victim was a Jew and his life therefore less valuable than that of a Muslim.

Most justice systems predicate on the notion of fairness. In some societies such as the US, crimes intended to harm someone based on a trait such as their faith actually incurs more severe penalties because the incident is perceived to have a wider range impact. Enhanced penalties are intended to serve as a deterrent, intending to discourage would-be criminals from committing crimes. But the opposite effect is achieved in Iran.

Criminals in Iran can rest easy knowing, if their victims are non-Muslims, they might get away with murder.

Born and raised in Iran, Marjan Keypour Greenblatt is a human rights activist and founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM) in Iran.