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Sunday, 27 October, 2002, 15:37 GMT
Eyewitness: Execution in Tehran
Officials with a noose for convicted killer Hashem Anwarniah (r)
A noose was prepared in a vivid blue nylon rope
Two convicted murderers were hanged in public in Tehran on Sunday, despite concerns by human rights organisations about the apparent rise in the number of such executions in Iran.

BBC Tehran correspondent Jim Muir witnessed the execution of Hashem Anwarnieh at Jamshidieh Park on Sunday and sent this personal account.

It is still dark when we arrive. Near the end of a clear, chilly autumn night with sharp stars pricking an inky sky as it begins to lighten in the east, to the side of the Elborz mountains which tower over us.


What a relief, what a relief

Mother of the murder victim
I have been here many times, but never before at this time of day.

I came for walks on spring days, when unseen nightingales sing with delicious liquid loudness from the bushes. For summer dinners on the terraces of the restaurants scattered up the rugged hillside.

And once in a midnight blizzard, when hundreds of Tehranis also flocked here to play in the drifting snow.

But now there is a barrier across the dark road, and a police car with a flashing red light stands alongside a crane set sideways astride the road that runs up beside the mountain park.

'Get closer!'

This is as close as the crane can get to the spot inside the park where Hashem Anwarnieh, an armed robber, shot dead a policeman called Malek Amiri two months ago.

Iranian conservatives
Hardline clerics see public executions as a deterrent

Dozens of men in uniform mill around in the pre-dawn gloom.

We pass unchallenged through the first barrier and wait by a second, maybe 50 metres from the crane.

Some riot police appear, rattling along with plastic shields, and melt into the background.

We are among the first here. We wait, hands in pockets against the chill, as a crowd slowly collects.

They are mainly young men, but also a man and his teenage daughter, another man and his wife, maybe two other women scattered among the 200 or so men.

More cars arrive with flashing lights and men with walkie-talkies crackling. One is clearly a boss. He sees the crowd is small.

"Let the people get closer!" he shouts.

Buzzing crowd

Barriers are moved, and the crowd surges alongside the park wall until they are just across from the crane.

We, the press, are allowed to go as close as we like.

Amir Karbalai (l) being led to execution in September 2001
No one appeals for clemency for the convicts
Hanging back a little are the family of the murdered policeman.

A grizzled old man with a tight-fitting pointed cap. An old woman and a younger one, both in long black robes. The younger one is smiling.

More cars arrive, and a police van which parks alongside the crane.

Hashem is inside.

Photographers and cameramen crowd around and take his picture as he sits and waits. For quite a long time.

I wonder whether he wants to get it over with, or to cling to each last moment.

A dark Mercedes and another car arrive and officials get out.

The engine of the crane has started by now.

Last smile

The crowd, who have been chatting idly like people waiting for anything, becomes alert.


I have a moment of envy. He is suddenly at peace, and we are not.

There is a buzz as Hashem Anwarniah is brought out of the van. He is surrounded by a small crush of officials, and the jostling cameramen move in close.

The crowd shouts, just a confused roar, probably telling the photographers to get out of the way so they can see.

Hashem is, perhaps, 30 and has a moustache and is quite good-looking.

He seems normal but a little nervous. Perhaps he has been drugged.

At one stage he exchanges a joke with one of the officials, and smiles.

Then he glances up and sees the hook of the crane which is dangling above his head.

Someone ties a cloth around his eyes.

'Come and watch'

A vivid blue nylon rope appears, with a hangman's noose at one end.

Someone ties the other end to the hook of the winch. Then the noose is placed around Hashem's neck.

For some reason, his blindfold is taken off.

He stands there for a while, looking around for the last time.

Then a small mask is brought, and fitted over his eyes. The last thing he sees is the bank of cameras about two metres away, filming and photographing the end of his life.

An official comes up to the dead policeman's family and says: "Come and watch."

They move forward closer to where Hashem is standing. He squares his shoulders and moves his head to make the noose sit more comfortably.

'Relief'

A man in a black suit standing beside Hashem raises his hand, and signals to the crane operator.

The rope goes straight.

A pause and then another signal, and it rises slowly and gently, taking Hashem with it. It seems somehow normal.

The crowd goes suddenly quiet.

The old woman in black, looking up as her son's killer rises into the dawn, says quietly over and over: "Akheish, akheish... what a relief, what a relief."

It is surprisingly peaceful. There is no shouting or kicking.

Within seconds, Hashem looks as though he has fallen asleep, his head at an angle. It is very simple.

Seen to be done

For perhaps a minute, a slight tremor runs through his dangling legs, then all is still.

I have a moment of envy. He is suddenly at peace, and we are not.

On the ground beneath him, all that is left are the cheap, grubby orange plastic sandals he was wearing when he arrived.

The policeman's family are ushered into an official car and driven off.

Islamic justice has been done. And seen to be done. People begin to drift away, glancing up at the still body as they go.

As we walk down the hill and look back, Hashem is still hanging from the crane in front of mountains now bathed in the honey glow of the rising sun he did not see.

See also:

27 Oct 02 | Middle East
19 Jul 02 | Middle East
16 Aug 01 | Middle East
15 Aug 01 | Middle East
23 Jul 01 | Middle East
12 Jul 01 | Middle East
11 Jun 01 | Middle East
11 Mar 01 | Middle East
20 Dec 00 | Country profiles
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