When he felt the noose around his neck, Balal must have thought he was about to take his last breath. Minutes earlier, crowds had watched as guards pushed him towards the gallows for what was meant to be yet another public execution in the Islamic republic of Iran.
Seven years ago Balal, who is in his 20s, stabbed 18-year-old Abdollah Hosseinzadeh during a street brawl in the small town of Royan, in the northern province of Mazandaran. In a literal application of qisas, the sharia law of retribution, the victim’s family were to participate in Balal’s punishment by pushing the chair on which he stood.
But what happened next marked a rarity in public executions in Iran, which puts more people to death than any other country apart from China. The victim’s mother approached, slapped the convict in the face and then decided to forgive her son’s killer. The victim’s father removed the noose and Balal’s life was spared. [...]
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