The Story of a Last-Minute Act of Forgiveness
Three weeks after having surgery on my leg, I received a text message inviting me to participate in the public screening of the movie “The Exclusive Path”, with its benefits dedicated to saving the life of Balal, a young inmate on death row. People, along with artists of different fields, were set to help Balal by providing the 115,000 USD blood money (Diyyah) requested by the victim’s heir (his father). A week later, Layli, a member of the “Society of [Iranian] Mothers for Peace” called my wife. This was two days before the supposed execution date. She asked us to go to Nour with her and spend the remaining hours trying to save Balal’s life. On Monday, just a day before the execution, we arrived in the city of Nour. The whole city was submerged in the hubbub of the next day execution. Are they going to pardon?
On 21st December 2007, street vendors of the local Wednesday market at Nour (located in the province of Mazandaran, 230 km from Tehran) witnessed a street brawl which led to the murder of Abdollah Hosein Zadeh, a 17 year old teenager. Balal, a boy about the same age as the victim, was charged with the crime. Abdollah’s parents, who had already lost their younger son in a motorcycle accident in 2003, were grief-stricken after losing their other son as well. The retaliation law in Iran (i.e. an eye for an eye) allows the murder victim’s family to either seek revenge from the murderer or spare their life. Now seven years after the murder, the victim’s family has spared the life of the murderer at the gallows and currently lives with their daughter, now their only child.
Abdolqani Hosein Zadeh, Abdollah’s father, is a former soccer player of local teams, currently active as the principal of the Nour City Soccer Academy. He decided to use the blood money to which he was entitled, to found a soccer academy in the name of his late son. The money was provided in a few months’ time before the execution date, through the efforts of several artists (in different fields of art, such as cinema) and some other humanitarian individuals. One day before the supposed execution date, an announcement of this event by ISNA convinced the host of a popular live show called 90 to ask the family of the victim to spare the convict’s life (90 is a show about soccer, with an impressive audience of approximately 30 million). However, none of these efforts seemed to work, and eventually we went to Nour to continue trying to help Balal.
On the day before the anticipated execution date we met with the victim’s father, while his mother had not yet made a decision. His father said that it was up to his wife: “all these years she has been mourning the loss of her young son and I don’t want her to be disappointed”. The mother would not receive visitors. She had disconnected the phone and locked herself in the house.
Kobra, Balal’s mother, contacted Ms. Azita Sharaf Jahan, who, along with her sister Rozita Sharaf Jahan, owns Tarrahan Azad Art Gallery in Tehran. Kobra had been doing the housework at the Sharaf Jahans’ summer-house for years, and that is how they came to know her. When they heard Balal’s story from his mother, they started to try to help, urging celebrities and artists to step in, and making other such preliminary moves. But all these efforts had led to a dead end. Kobra was in tears when she told Azita that she wished to see us. Balal’s mother told us that she had just heard the news that they were preparing the scaffold in front of the prison. She had lost all hope and was hysterical.
Later that day, I contacted a reporter for the sports service of ISNA and told them the story. An hour later, with the help of sport reporters of ISNA, I talked to Adel Ferdowsi Pour, host of 90, on the phone. We talked for an hour, discussing all the legal ways there are for asking for forgiveness in a show that belongs to the national television of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Mentioning the request for the forgiveness of a death row inmate in a show exclusively about soccer would entail major problems. Eventually, within the first minutes of the show, the host asked the victim’s father, as a veteran soccer player, to spare Balal’s life. I was a bit relieved. Until the end of the show, the execution – due on the day after – was mentioned a few more times, leading to famous players calling Mr. Hosein Zadeh and mediating. The show went on until 3 a.m., becoming more than just a show about soccer: a tribune for people who wanted Balal’s life spared. People would not stop calling their favourite TV show and talk of forgiveness travelled from television to the scaffold.
At 5:30 a.m., Tuesday, people had gathered in front of the prison chanting “Uncle Qani, forgive him”. Abdolqani Hosein Zade had coached many of the youths in his city, and they called him “Uncle Qani”. Some had placed the holy Qur’an over their heads (an act of seeking mercy from God, in Islam). Balal’s mother had fainted on the ground, stretching out her arms toward the sky. Balal’s sisters were crying and asking for forgiveness. The victim’s family was inside the prison.
An hour later they brought Balal out, blindfolded and handcuffed. I was recording the moments hoping to witness the act of forgiveness. The victim’s mother said she would not forgive Balal. They threw the noose around his neck. At the last moments of his life, Balal was asking Abdollah’s parents for forgiveness.
Only one minute before the official time for carrying out the sentence, the victim’s mother climbed on a chair, slapped Balal in the face and forgave him. The noose was removed by the prison officials, with the help of the Hosein Zadehs. People were cheering with joy.
Hours after Balal’s life was spared, his mother came to us with a box full of sweets, to thank us for helping to save her son’s life.
Now, a few months after Balal’s life was spared, he is about to be released from jail. He plans to move to a different city and work as a carpenter/welder, something he used to do before and during incarceration. He also plans to help the institutions that work to collect blood money (Diyyah) for other death row convicts like himself. And since he was given a new life, he wants to help other recipients of the death sentence get pardoned.
The Hosein Zadehs (family of the victim) have purchased a piece of land using the Diyyah money – provided by Iranian artists and other donors – and plan on establishing a soccer academy in the name of their lost child.
Arash Khamooshi, August 5, 1983, Kermanshah, Iran.
I went to high school in Kermanshah and moved to Tehran in 2002 in order to continue my studies.
In 2007 I received my B.A. in Photography from Azad University (Faculty of Art and Architecture). In 2005, while still a student, I started my cooperation with ISNA (Iranian Students’ News Agency) as staff photographer. Since then I have been covering domestic and international socio-political news/events as well as sports news, winning multiple awards and honours for this agency.
Awards and Honours:
Media Festival / 1st place / March / 2014
Office of the President of Iran/ Honoured /Apr 2013
Ebara Games Dizin 2012 / 3rd Place/ Feb 2012
Parliament of Islamic Republic of Iran / Honoured / Feb 2012
Iran Air Force (IRIAF) / Honoured /Dec 2009
Creative photographer of Azad University Photo Festival / 1st Place /Aug 2009
“For Better Life” Festival / 3rd place / Sep 2008
Ministry of Interior- Covering Parliament Elections / Honoured / Feb 2009
Office of the President of Iran / Honoured / Nov 2008
Best photojournalist of the Year, survey from doorbin.net website / 3rd place / May 2008
“Our Iran” National Festival of Photography:
Iranian President’s Provincial Tour / 3rd place / Mar 2008
“For Iran” National Festival: Iranian President’s Tour (Professional Photography) / 2nd Place / Nov 2007
Fanous Festival / 3rd place / May 2007
Islamic Republic of Iran Police / Honoured / Aug 2007
Ministry of Petroleum (MoP)- Pars Special Zone (PSEEZ) / Honoured / Sep 2006
4th Urban Media Festival / 1st place / Aug 2006
2nd Sport Photo Festival / Honoured / July 2005