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Iran Teen Pardoned Before Hanging

TEHRAN, Iran, January 2, 2000 (AP) -- A 17-year-old murderer -- hands cuffed, tears streaking his ashen face and a noose draped around his neck -- was granted clemency Sunday seconds before he was to be hanged.

The man who spared his life? The murder victim's father.

Under Iran's Islamic legal system, whether the convicted boy would die was up to the relatives of his victim. After the boy's family and many of the public hanging's 4,000 spectators pleaded with the victim's father, he told authorities to spare Morteza Amini Moqaddam's life.

The teen's family, overcome with joy, said they would never forget the act of mercy by the father, Ali Mohebbi.

"Ever since his son died I have been praying for him. I will never forget as long as I live how he gave me my son's life back," said Moqaddam's mother, who did not give her first name.

Moqaddam returned to prison in the ambulance that had been waiting to take his body to the morgue. He is expected to be resentenced soon.

Moqaddam was convicted of fatally stabbing 22-year-old Hadi Mohebbi on Dec. 13 after a quarrel about smoking in public. He was to be hanged from a crane fixed atop a truck 30 feet from the electronics shop where he committed the crime.

A dozen of Moqaddam's relatives, including his parents and grandmother, gathered in front of the shop before dawn, holding open copies of Islam's holy book, the Koran, and chanting, "Islam demands forgiveness. Forgive him for the sake of the Koran."

A crowd watched over by hundreds of anti-riot police began to build in the working-class neighborhood. The street was closed to traffic.

Shortly after sunrise, a judicial official brought Moqaddam, dressed in a blue sweatshirt and sweatpants, out of the police car where he had been waiting. The official read out the death sentence and fixed a thick rope around Moqaddam's neck. The teen-ager's face went pale and he started weeping.

His family began screaming and turned to the crowd around them.

"Please help us," they pleaded. "He's only 17 years old. Please ask for forgiveness with us."

Hundreds of people joined Moqaddam's family. About a dozen others shouted against clemency: "He should be killed," they yelled. "Otherwise he will kill again."

Mohebbi's father then spoke to judicial officials, saying he had forgiven Moqaddam.

The crowd rejoiced at the news, clapping, crying, and shouting "Allahu Akbar!" or "God is great!" Some lifted Mohebbi's father on their shoulders, exclaiming, "Long live Mohebbi!" Even police officers joined the celebration.

Sunday evening, authorities brought the teen to Mohebbi's home for a meeting with both families. State-run Iranian television ran footage of Moqaddam repeatedly thanking Ali Mohebbi and kissing his hand and face.

"I really appreciate the father of Hadi, whom I owe until the last moment of my life," Moqaddam said.

Ali Mohebbi said he decided to forgive Moqaddam because "I just considered the honor of Islam."

"If I forgave him, maybe millions of people who would watch the news would learn about forgiveness -- and that is the message of Islam," he said. "When I saw his hands cuffed behind him and the noose around his neck and everyone was waiting for my order, I thought that first of all if this boy is dead, it will not bring back my son."

What kind of sentence Moqaddam will face is uncertain. A friend who participated in the killing was sentenced to 15 years in prison and 74 lashes.