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IRAN: Gruesome sentence upheld by Supreme Court

TEHRAN, 29 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - An Iranian court has sentenced a man to have his eyes surgically gouged out for a crime he committed 12 years ago, according to a report in the Iranian daily newspaper Etemaad. Amnesty International (AI) has condemned the sentence passed on the man known only as Vahid.

The Iranian Supreme Court rejected an appeal earlier this month and ordered that the punishment should be carried out, although human rights groups in Iran have said that such unusual sentences are almost never carried out.

According to Etemaad, Vahid was a 16-year-old labourer in Tehran when he threw battery acid in another man's face during a fight in a market in 1993. The incident blinded his victim. Vahid claimed the use of acid was accidental and that the lid came off a battery in the course of a struggle.

The court judged the crime on 'Qesas', a Quranic term for strictly defined penalties where the judge cannot use his discretion. In this case, it was literally "an eye for an eye". The paper reported that initially the sentence passed was to spray acid on Vahid's eyes but Vahid's lawyers appealed arguing the rest of his face could also be damaged. The sentence was then commuted so that Vahid would have his eyes surgically gouged out.

Vahid's lawyer is seeking clemency for his client although Vahid has been asked to pay blood money of about US $330,000 after payment of which he would escape punishment. The newspaper reported that Vahid does not have the money.

"This is a truly shocking case amounting to a sentence of judicial torture," said Mike Blakemore of Amnesty. "We appeal to the Iranian authorities to guarantee that this punishment is not carried out and would further appeal to all medical practitioners in Iran to have nothing to do with this gruesome punishment," he said.

Human rights specialists and lawyers say that unusual sentences such as this are sometimes passed by Islamic courts but the decreed punishments are very rarely carried out. They are used more as leverage in setting the amount of compensation to be paid to the victim. Punishments such as stoning are now very rare in Iran, thanks to new human rights initiatives and pressure from the European Union (EU).

There are fears that human rights could suffer under Iran's new president, ultra-conservative Tehran mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected in a run-off poll on 24 June. Reformists and dissidents fear there will be political crackdowns and that the Basij Islamic militia will enjoy increased powers to stop, search and intimidate anyone they suspect of being, in their opinion, subversive.

Iran has more journalists in prison than almost any other country in the world and newspapers and internet blog sites are regularly shut down. Analysts say that under Ahmadinejad, the administration will work more closely with the judiciary, making the government less likely to speak out on matters involving controversial legal issues.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2004

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