Shahla Jahed - an Iranian love triangle.



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


Kadijeh Jahed was born on the 10th of May 1969, and was always known as Shala.  She worked as nurse and was an avid football fan. 


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".



Shahla’s 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. 


In Iran 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.


Shahla 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 temporary marriage.  She 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 Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, 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 Hashemi Shahroudi 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 Saegh Larijani, 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 5.00 am (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, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi and Judge Esmatollah Jaberi, 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 punishment."


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.  There is no execution hood although a woman may be blindfolded.  A female prison officer would place an American style coiled noose, often 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.


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. Mahnaz Afzali 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. 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, my darling."


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.


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