The case of Shahla Jahed
gripped Tehran.The tabloids sold by street
children at traffic lights across the city made a great deal out of the case
under banner headlines such as "Shahla: I am Laleh's murderer",
"Shahla: I'm no psycho" and "My mistress murdered my wife".
Although not pretty enough to be a model, Shahla was a good looking 32 year
old, which combined the case's notoriety, her temporary husband’s sporting fame
and her feisty personality fascinated the public.Her case made international news and was
widely reported.Click here for a photo
of Shahla in court in 2004
KadijehJahed was born on the 10th of May 1969, and was always known as Shala.She worked as nurse and was an avid football
It would seem that she became infatuated at
the age of 13 with Nasser Mohammad Khani who was a
top Iranian footballer in the 1980s and who by 1998 was the highly successful
coach of Tehran's Persepolis football club.Meeting one
of his friends in the street, Shahla asked the person to pass on her phone
number to Nasser. The friend forgot to pass on the number and it wasn’t until some
months later when his wife found the piece of paper in his pocket that he
actually did so.According to Shahla’s
testimony at trial, Nasser rang her the evening on which he finally received the message. They
arranged to meet the following day, the 17th of October 1998.Shahla had a nice apartment
in northern Tehran which soon became their love nest.The couple arranged a temporary marriage, allowed under Iranian
law.This is important because adultery is a capital crime under Sharia law,
punishable by stoning to death.The
tradition of temporary marriage, (sigheh in Farsi)
dates back to the beginnings of Islam and essentially allows couples to engage
in sexual relations outside of marriage while ensuring any offspring are
legally and financially provided for.It
is still permitted under Shia Islam but not by Sunni
Islam.The marriage agreement has to be
witnessed by an Islamic clergyman. Nasser was already married to Laleh Saharkhizan,
by whom he had two sons.It seems he
enjoyed both relationships.
Laleh was discovered stabbed to death by
her two children in her home on the 8th of October 2002 whilst
her husband was in Germany with his football team.Investigating police uncovered the relationship between Shahla and
Nasser which led to her becoming the prime suspect.
Shahla was arrested in November 2003 and
charged with murder after confessing in police custody and carrying out a
detailed re-enactment of the crime.Nasser was initially suspected
of complicity in the crime and held for several months but later cleared.He did receive 74 lashes for smoking opium,
which Shahla had bought for him, recording the purchases in her diary as
"bags of rice".
trial began on the 7th of June 2004 in Tehran, the open part of the hearing
lasting until the 9th of June.She stood
accused of the murder, stealing from Laleh’s house and obtaining opium for Nasser.She vehemently denied the murder of Laleh and insisted her confession
was obtained under duress, but did admit to obtaining drugs for Nasser.
murder cases are tried under Sharia law, which puts the family of the victim
into the principal decision making role and allows them to demand the death
penalty which is an available punishment for premeditated murder. The victim’s
immediate family are required to present a unanimous decision to the court
requesting the death penalty. If one member accepts blood money instead, then
the death penalty cannot be imposed.
Negotiations with the family to accept blood money are permitted and are often
successful where say the family breadwinner is killed leaving the other members
of the family destitute. Where the victim’s family reject blood money and
demand execution they are required by law to attend the hanging, but can still
pardon the prisoner up to the last minute.
At the beginning of the trial, Laleh’s
mother told the court that she wanted “an eye for an eye” and “legal
retribution”. Nasser Khani also asked the court for
“legal retribution” or Quesas in Sharia law.
put up a very spirited defence when she was called to the stand and argued with
the judge.She told the court that she
and Nasser had a four year affair but that he had recited the verse for
had become pregnant by Nasser and admitted in
court to “killing the child” by having an abortion.
Nasser was in court throughout the trial and many of Shahla's comments
seemed directed towards him rather than the judge.She even reiterated her love for him.Asked about the huge number of phone calls
she made to him, she told the court that "I'd get up in the middle of the
night and miss Nasser.Even if he went to the toilet I missed him."Laleh's mother and sister told the court that
they had received telephone calls at night from an anonymous woman who told them
that Laleh did not deserve her life with Nasser.
The film made of the re-enactment of the
killing with a police officer playing the part of Laleh was shown to the
court.In it, Shahla described how she
stabbed Laleh. The judge remarked upon how detailed the confession was in this
re-enactment.She said she asked Laleh
to forgive her but stabbed her again. This testimony was almost too much for
Laleh’s mother to bear and she became very emotional during it, screaming
"Oh God, God damn you!". "May God's
rage fall upon you. She killed my girl."
Shahla told the court that both she and
Laleh were victims of Nasser’s love.According to her
testimony, Shahla visited Laleh’s house after the murder and she became very
emotional in court when she recalled seeing her body. She told the court that
she covered up the body but once again insisted that she did not kill
Laleh.If true, this could account for
any finger print evidence found.
After one of her exchanges with the judge,
a smiling Shahla told him "If you want to kill me go ahead". "It
looks like you're sitting here with a sword as if we're in a duel. Excuse me
for my boldness because I like you. I confess I really do." The judge
didn’t seem to know what to make of this. Later she said to him: "In your
sleep you don't want to see Shahla's wandering soul."
On the 17th of June 2004 Shahla was returned to court to be sentenced
to death by hanging.
A panel of five judges in Iran’s
State Supreme Court confirmed Shahla’s death sentence on the 26th of October 2005.The case had been
previously examined by a smaller panel of judges who reached the same
conclusion on the 2nd of October.
Shahla’s lawyer reportedly wrote to the
Head of the Judiciary, Ayatollah MahmoudHashemiShahroudi, requesting a
review of the execution order on the grounds that Shahla's case had not been
properly investigated. In November 2005 the Head of the Judiciary ordered a
stay of execution so that the case could be re-examined. On the 13th of February 2008, Shahla’s conviction was overturned when HashemiShahroudi found
procedural flaws in the original
investigation and ordered a fresh investigation.The Etemad
newspaper quoted Laleh’s sister saying the family did not believe Shahla Jahed's "claim to innocence". "Laleh was a
mother of two who was murdered in all innocence. Her murderer must be
punished".One aspect that has not
been explained to the public is the autopsy finding of semen in Laleh’s vagina.Whether this was Nasser’s from before he left for Germany, we do not know.If not, did it indicate that either Laleh
also had another relationship or that she was raped and murdered by a male
intruder?Clearly the judges did not
find evidence of a male intruder.
In May 2009, the
conviction and sentence were once again upheld and on the 13th
of September 2010, Sharla wrote a letter to Mohammad SaeghLarijani, head of the judiciary asking for a final
resolution of her case. His reply came on the 7th of November 2010 when he sent the execution order to Evin prison allowing them to schedule the hanging.
After 3,063 days on and off death row in Tehran’s Evin prison,
Shahla was finally hanged in the prison courtyard at (before the Islamic morning call for prayer)
on the morning of Wednesday, the 1st of December 2010.Judiciary officials were reported to have spent almost an hour in talks
with Laleh’s family before the hanging, trying to convince them to spare
Shahla's life, but without success.
As required by law, Lelah’s
immediate family and Nasser were present, together with Shahla’s lawyer, AbdolsamadKhorramshahi and
Assistant Judge from the Tehran Criminal Court’s Implementation Unit.Her friends and family were not permitted to
witness the execution, but a number of them had gathered outside the prison.
In an interview before
the hanging, Nasser said that he supported the execution.
"Whatever my children and Laleh's mother say is OK with me," he was
quoted as saying. "The killer of my wife should get the appropriate
At the gallows, Shahla
prayed before sobbing uncontrollably as she was prepared for execution and
cried out for her life to be spared.She
made no final statement. It was variously reported that one of Lelah’s sons or her brother pulled the bench from under
her, so actually hanging her.
Although few actual details of the hanging
have been published, it is possible from other Iranian female executions to get
an idea of what would have happened to Shahla.Typically she would have worn a black chador and had her hands
handcuffed behind her back before being led into the courtyard and being made
to mount a bench under the tubular steel beam of the gallows.The prisoner’s legs are usually shackled and
there is no execution hood although a woman may be blindfolded.A female prison officer would place an
American style coiled noose, formed from brightly coloured nylon rope, around
her neck and then either a male prison guard or a relative of the victim, as in
this case, would pull the bench from under the prisoner’s feet leaving her
suspended.As there would be very little
drop, death would be by strangulation and/or Vagal or Carotid reflex.
Shahla’s execution was the 146th so far and
the third female one in Iran during 2010. 31 women remain on death row in Tehran’s Evin prison alone.
Comment. It is impossible to say with any certainty whether
or not Shahla was guilty.She had an
obvious motive for killing Laleh, who was her love rival, but simply having a motive does not
prove that she did so.She admits to
having been in the house, although she claims that Laleh was already dead by
then, but it is unclear as to why she went there at all.
The case against Shahla was based
principally on her confession.Shahla
claimed that she only made this under duress. This is corroborated by Fereshteh Ghazi, a journalist who shared a cell with her
for two weeks, and who was interviewed by Channel 4’s Lindsey
Hilsum“Shahla told me she was beaten up for
11 months and she was tortured.But she
didn’t confess until Nasser came to see her and allegedly asked her to take responsibility for
the murder and she did so.”According to
Major Abharian, a senior police officer assigned to
the investigation of the case, Nasser was allowed to visit Shahla at Tehran’s police
criminal investigation unit.Although no
record of that meeting exists, it raises the question of whether she was
coerced into confessing to protect Nasser and his reputation or someone else.
Then there is the possibility that Laleh
was raped and perhaps stabbed by her attacker.Questions were also raised about the way the crime scene was
investigated and whether forensic evidence had been destroyed.
It has to be remembered that Shahla faced a
humiliating and painful death, in all probability by slow strangulation, and it
is hardly surprising that she withdrew her confession and loudly proclaimed her
innocence in an effort to try and save herself.
A documentary on the case, entitled “Red
Card” was made by Ms. MahnazAfzali
and featured extracts from Shahla’s home videos taken during the affair,
together with excerpts from the trial. Ms Afzali, who
interviewed Shahla for the film and visited her regularly in Evin prison, said she was obsessed with Nasser. "It is the cliché
of a poor girl who falls in love with a celebrity," she said. Red Card was
banned in Iran but 40 minutes of footage are available here with
In one clip, taken after Persepolis
had won the league in 2002, a smiling Nasser is welcomed into their apartment by Shahla. "What does it feel
like to be a champion?" she asks him. "I'm so happy dear," he
replies. And Shahla answers: "I prayed for you - let me see you my love,
Nasser’s lionisation of his wife after the murder compares unfavourably to
his treatment of her in life. "You cannot compare my wife to Shahla,"
he said. "She loved me with all her heart, but Shahla's love was just
lust." He later says they had a "telepathic understanding" but
in a tape recording, the dead woman complains about how little she sees of him.
It is not known whether Laleh was aware that Nasser was cheating on her with
Shahla.Whatever the reality of the case is, Shahla must have felt her love was totally
betrayed by Nasser who had every opportunity to save her.