Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Dateline: Iran

Public Execution Common in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - The condemned man kissed the rope.

"I am not scared," Ahmad Dowlatyari shouted to the crowd that assembled at sunrise Monday to watch his hanging. "My life is now over. I want to go with a smile."

A tow truck's crane rose with a hydraulic hiss. The orange rope stiffened. Dowlatyari — convicted of murdering his crime partner in a fight over stolen gold — gasped once and was dead.

The spectacle of public executions has become commonplace in Iran since the Islamic Revolution 23 years ago.

At least 139 documented executions were carried out in Iran last year — publicly or in prisons — compared with 75 in 2000, but both figures could be "considerably higher," according to the London-based rights group Amnesty International. Iran does not release death penalty statistics.

In the United States, there were 66 executions last year, compared to 85 in 2000. The United States has been harshly criticized by its European allies for allowing capital punishment. Abolishing the death penalty is a requirement for membership in the 15-member EU.

Public floggings — for offenses such as drinking alcohol — still take place but are much less common than before Khatami came to office in 1997. Stonings for adultery and other social violations have not occurred since the mid-1990s.

At Monday's hanging on a dirt-covered soccer field, many agreed it is an essential element of Iran's Islamic system.

"This is what happens to criminals," said Abbas, 29, who gave only his first name. "This is what the Quran dictates."

About 500 people, nearly all men, gathered before dawn in a gritty south Tehran district. Some women and children watched from rooftops and nibbled freshly baked bread.

Just as the sun rose, the noose was fitted and the crane's arm jerked upward. Dowlatyari's body dangled for a half hour as people drifted home and children prepared for school.