You have to hand it to the Iranians. They have taken the whole “If you don’t at first succeed, try again” mantra to a new level.
On an autumnal Wednesday earlier this month, Alireza, a 37-year-old jailed for smuggling drugs and sentenced to death in Iran, woke up to what was supposed to be his last day alive.
Just before sunrise, guards hooked ropes around his neck and hanged him for possessing a kilo of crystal meth. Exactly 12 minutes later medics pronounced him dead and sent his body for burial.
But in the morgue the next day, something unusual caught the eyes of a worker who was preparing the corpse for family collection: steam in the plastic cover he was wrapped in. He was still alive.
Alireza was instantly taken to Bojnurd’s Imam Ali hospital in Bojnurd in Iran’s northern Khorasan province, the city where the prison is sited.
Now, to the dismay of his family, Iranian judicial authorities are waiting for him to make a full recovery before they hang him again, according to the state-run Jam-e-Jam newspaper, which was first to break the news of Alireza’s ordeal.
Iran’s judiciary has argued that he was sentenced to death, rather than to hanging, and should be re-executed. But human rights activists, already concerned about Iran’s high rate of executions, say he should be spared.
A nurse told Jam-e-Jam that Alireza’s general health was satisfactory and he was making progress day by day. “We couldn’t believe he was still alive when we went to collect his body,” a relative told the Iranian newspaper. “More than anyone, his two daughters are very happy.”
Mohammad Erfan, a judge with Iran’s administrative justice court, told Jam-e-Jam: “The sentence issued by the revolutionary court is the death penalty … in such circumstances it should be repeated once again.”
Alireza, whose surname has not been published by the Iranian media to protect his identity, was arrested three years ago for carrying Shisheh, an Iranian nickname for methamphetamine in the form of crystal, which among many other drugs such as opium is relatively cheap to buy in the Islamic republic. A revolutionary court found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
Under Iranian law, convicts should be conscious and relatively healthy before execution – hanging is delayed for people who are pregnant or in a coma.
When someone is sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, for instance in adultery cases, if they manage to climb out of the ground after being buried up to the neck or somehow survive the ordeal, their life is spared.
As a neighbour of Afghanistan, a leading producer and supplier of the world’s drugs, Iran has high rates of drug use, especially among its huge number of young people. To tackle this Iranian authorities have launched a campaign with financial aid from Europe to crack down on drug smuggling, which has led to an alarming rate of executions.
In recent years, Iran has consistently been among the five countries with the highest rates of executions. China tops the list.
In 2012, Iran is known to have executed at least 314 people, according to figures released by Amnesty International, but this could be far below the true number. Iran says most of the executions are related to drug offences.
Since Hassan Rouhani took office in early August as the new president of Iran, at least 125 people have been executed.
“While Rouhani was elected on promises of change and human rights reforms, there have been at least 125 executions since his inauguration on 4 August, with dozens of other prisoners sentenced to death or facing imminent execution,” according to a joint statement from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre.
No doubt all of this is the fault of the “Zionist criminal network.”