Friday, November 21, 2014
TEHRAN — An eerie silence filled the air as a crowd of around 300 gathered Sunday just before sunrise in a Tehran park. They awaited the arrival of two young men who were about to die.
Just before nooses were put on their necks, Alireza Mafiha, 23, laid his head on an executioner’s shoulder. Mohammad Ali Sarvari, 20, is second from right.
The condemned stood shoulder to shoulder, motionless, in front of two police trucks with two nooses hanging from extendable cranes, about 15 feet high. Black-clad executioners were inspecting the remote controls they would use to hang the men, both in their early 20s, who were convicted of stabbing a man in November and stealing his bag and the equivalent of $20.
From behind a makeshift barrier of scaffolding, the crowd jostled for position. “Let’s move to the other side,” one spectator whispered to his wife, pointing to the spot where Iranian state television cameras had been set up. “I think we will have a better view from there.”
Although every year hundreds of convicts are hanged in Iran, a public hanging in a central park in Tehran is a rare event. Most hangings take place inside prisons, according to Iranian judicial officials and international human rights organizations.
Sunday’s execution in Park-e Honarmandan (Artists Park), near the crime scene, was part of a heavy-handed offensive by Iranian authorities, who say they are trying to prevent rising crime rates from getting out of hand by setting harsh examples. In recent weeks, public executions have been stepped up, and in several large cities the police have been rounding up what they call thugs and hooligans.
Police commanders and other officials blame government mismanagement of the economy — which they say has caused a rise in unemployment and inflation — for the increase in crime. International economic sanctions have aggravated problems, many here say, leading to a record gap between rich and poor in Iran.
While no official statistics are publicly available, officials report a rise in violent crimes, mostly perpetrated by young men attacking their victims with knives to get money and other valuables. Local news media report only a fraction of the episodes, but at social gatherings of middle-class Iranians — the usual targets — horrific stories of theft, kidnapping, rape and home burglaries abound.
“Two young men entered my house two weeks ago and beat me senseless,” said Manijeh, 54, a homemaker from north Tehran, a more affluent section of the city. The intruders bound her arms and legs and beat her, asking for the location of the safe, she said. “But we don’t have a safe,” said Manijeh, who declined to reveal her surname out of fear that the burglars would return. They stole her car, ransacked her home and took nearly everything inside, she said.
“Our city has become completely unsafe,” said Manijeh, speaking after her recent release from a hospital. “These things would never happen until some years ago. We need the harshest measures to stop these criminals.”
Armin, 30, an engineer, said his father was recently robbed and beaten by a gang of thieves on motorcycles. “They hit him hard, but afterwards he received an anonymous call telling him where to find his bag,” he said. “They took all his money but returned his documents.”
On Sunday, the two condemned men, Alireza Mafiha, 23, and Mohammad Ali Sarvari, 20, stood before the onlookers, many of whom said they were family members and friends.
“They have shaved his hair,” said one young man pointing at Mr. Mafiha who said he knew both men. Mr. Sarvari, baby-faced, stared wide-eyed into the crowd.
The two men, both unemployed and from poor families, had been caught two months ago on a security camera robbing a man and stabbing him, helped by two accomplices. Video from the crime spread on the Internet and caused a widespread uproar, prompting politicians and clerics to call for harsh measures.
Two weeks later, all four men were arrested. The head of Iran’s judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani, made it clear in comments on the crime that even though their victim had not died, a death sentence for the two main defendants, Mr. Mafiha and Mr. Sarvari, was likely. “We need to act assertively and increase the costs for those committing street crimes,” he said, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.