Iran hangs footballer's mistress for murder

Shahla Jahed in court, 07/06/2010 Shahla Jahed had spent nine years in Evin prison

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Iran has executed the mistress of a prominent footballer for the 2002 murder of his wife, state media says.

Shahla Jahed, 40, was hanged in Tehran for stabbing to death the wife of 1980s football star Nasser Mohammadkhani, the woman's lawyer told Irna news agency.

Mr Mohammadkhani, who had been in a so-called temporary marriage with Jahed, reportedly attended the execution.

International human rights groups had campaigned for her release since she was jailed more than eight years ago.

The Council of Europe said the execution showed that Iran's government had "little respect for human rights".

"I am dismayed by this latest execution in Iran and also by the inhumane way in which it was carried out," said the organisation's secretary-general Thorbjorn Jagland.

The execution is the 146th in Iran this year, according to AFP news agency.

The Irna news agency reported that Jahed prayed prior to the hanging, and then burst into tears and shouted for her life to be spared.

The victim's brother was at the execution and pulled the chair from under her, according to reports.

Final pleas

Jahed had been living with Mr Mohammadkhani, an international footballer who played in the late 1980s, in a temporary marriage - a practice known as sigheh in Farsi which is allowed in Islam.

She first confessed to the murder of Laleh Saharkhizan, but later retracted the statement in court.

Analysis

After a court imposes a death sentence, the family of the convicted prisoner is allowed to make a direct appeal to the family of the victim to stop the execution from going ahead. In many cases, the victim's family gets to decide whether or not the death sentence is carried out.

In this case, Shahla Jahed's lawyer, Abdol-Samad Khoramshahi, says that he wasn't given the time he needed in order to make this appeal properly.

"According to the rules I should have been informed 48 hours before the execution so that I can go to the bereaved family asking them to forgive Shahla for the last time," he says.

Instead, Mr Khoramshahi only had a few hours to make the appeal. Just before the execution was set to take place, he and Ms Jahed's family held talks with the family of Laleh Saharkhizan - Ms Jahed's alleged victim. Reports say that judiciary officials joined in the appeals for mercy.

But the victim's family decided that the sentence should be carried out.

Shortly after five o'clock in the morning Shahla Jahed was led out to the gallows at Evin prison in Tehran and hanged.

Mr Mohammadkhani was initially suspected of complicity in the murder and jailed for several months, but he was released after Jahed's confession.

The fact that she was his temporary wife allowed him to avoid being charged with adultery, although he was sentenced to 74 lashes for drug-taking after the court heard he had smoked opium with Jahed.

Before the execution, Jahed's sister made a final plea to Ms Saharkhizan's family to ask for the sentence not to be carried out.

"Firstly I have to say that we would like to extend our apologies to Laleh's family for Shahla turning up in her marital life in the first place," Jahed's sister, who did not want to be named, told BBC Persian.

"Secondly we are still shocked by what Shahla has done and we're still in disbelief."

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty director for the Middle East and North Africa, said there were "strong grounds" to believe she had not receive a fair trial.

"She may have been coerced into making a 'confession' during months of detention in solitary confinement," he said in a statement.

"She retracted that confession at her trial but the court chose to accept it as evidence against her."

The initial verdict was overturned in 2008 after the judiciary cited "procedural flaws", but Jahed was again sentenced to death in February 2009.

Iran has attracted international criticism over the separate case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

After campaigns for her release around the world, her stoning sentence was suspended, although she could still be hanged for murder.

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