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Blind justice? The case of Ameneh Bahrami

Anyone who’s seen the horrendous damage done to the face (and other parts of the body) of Ameneh Bahrami in an acid attack in Iran will be appalled.

Her assailant, Majid Movahedi, apparently committed this disgusting crime because she wouldn’t marry him. Bahrami has been left blind and disfigured (though still heroically smiling in some photos). "If I can't have her, no-one will", is the perverted logic of acid attackers (as in India, Bangladesh and many other places). Honestly, it's so degraded it's hard to speak about.

But …. does that mean it's right to pour acid onto the face of the perpetrator as a court-ordered punishment? No.

The crime was truly horrible but that doesn't mean you should impose a sentence that would also be horrible. (It’s the same wrong-headed idea as capital punishment, with its bizarre idea of "symmetry" – "you killed, we kill you").

In Iranian law the principle of qesas can be invoked, so that the victim actually gets to carry out a retributive “eye-for-an-eye”-style punishment, and here Bahrami was herself going to drop acid into Movahedi's eyes.

Yesterday her eleventh-hour change of heart averted a cruel punishment which would have been no different to torture.

Reportedly, Bahrami said that “pressure” from international human rights groups made her “reconsider” the sentence. I'm glad to hear it. She also said that she “never wanted revenge”. I haven’t been through the unimaginable ordeal she has (shock, terrible pain, 17 operations), but I think her stance is right. Crime should be punished even-handedly and unswervingly, but it shouldn't be about revenge. (There’s an interesting post on the ethics of her decision on Ethics Alarms).

One thing the sickening attack on Ameneh Bahrami ought to do is remind us of the extent of violence and discrimination against women and girls in Iran.

Women’s rights campaigners in Iran are regularly persecuted and imprisoned (please take action for one of them here), while an Amnesty Iran specialist has just posted this update, detailing the response of the authorities to a recent spate of gang rapes in the country.

Disturbingly, the authorities seem more preoccupied with blaming women for not wearing a hijab than in preventing the crimes in the first place or bringing those that do them to justice.  Here justice seems to be blind to the real crime that’s taken place. I think Bahrami, meanwhile, had the inner vision to avert a needless act of torture.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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