Many kinds of miracles exist in this world. Frankly, I believe that coming back to life from death is definitely one of the most dramatic miracles that a person can ever experience. Furthermore, if a “resurrection” involves an execution, the story would be even more unbelievable than any kind of resurrection. However, it would also leave the dilemma of “executing twice.” In other words, should we regard the return as irrelevant to the sentence, or should the government proceed to finish the unfinished sentence?
In October, this unbelievable story occurred in Iran. Alireza M, the Iranian drug smuggler, was arrested three years ago and sentenced to death by hanging. Unlike most countries that employ the modern hanging method, which ensures quick and definite death by fracturing one’s neck, Iran still uses the traditional hanging method, which literally hangs a convict until he or she suffocates. His sentence was carried out Oct. 9, and he was hanged by the neck for approximately 12 minutes. The doctor announced his death, and his body was transported to the morgue. After the announcement, the judge, warden and doctor signed the paperwork that proved his death. A day later, when a morgue employee removed Alireza’s body to transfer it to his family, he observed that moisture formed near Alireza’s mouth. The employee immediately reported the survival of Alireza to the nearest hospital, and medical personnel transported Alireza to the hospital for proper examination. The status of Alireza was surprisingly fine, so much so that medical practitioners pronounced that he would make a full recovery with enough nutrition and rest.
Literally, Alireza came back to life after knocking on heaven’s door. The chances of even “being alive” were very slim, and no one really expected someone to survive the execution. Yet not only did he survive the hanging, but he also survived without permanent brain damage.
However, the problem occurred when the Iranian high courts received the news. Their initial response was that the execution must be carried out again. Nourollah Aziz-Mohammadi, a senior judge in Iran, commented that the law ensures Alireza’s death. In support of judicial authorities’ argument, Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, the grand ayatollah who is an expert in Shariah law, asserted that the sentence is still viable even if Alireza came back to life.
Opposing the argument of Iran’s judicial authorities, many human rights activists claimed that the government should not carry out another execution of Alireza. Philip Luther, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program, commented, “Carrying out a second execution on a man who somehow managed to survive 12 minutes of hanging — who was certified as dead and whose body was about to be turned over to his family — is simply ghastly. It betrays a basic lack of humanity that sadly underpins much of Iran’s justice system.” Even though many human rights activists signed a petition for the release of Alireza, the expectation of Alireza’s status was grim because international organizations have no authority to intervene.
Fortunately, Alireza was granted new life because Golpaygani commented that his religious interpretation should not be applied to this case. In his interpretation, only thievery, rape and adultery are strictly bound by Shariah law. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, the minister of justice, reassured that the execution will not take place.
The worst-case scenario did not take place. High authorities of Iran realized that executing somebody twice is extremely inhumane. However, is their decision to spare Alireza’s life right? If Alireza were American and the same incident occurred on U.S. soil, would we spare his life?
Yes, I agree that the decision to spare his life is correct. Iranians may have different perspectives regarding their justice system and criminal sentencing, but I will discuss the matter of executing twice from the American perspective, from the perspective of the Constitution. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that cruel and unusual punishments are prohibited. The morality of execution may be debatable, but many will definitely agree that a tremendous amount of physical and psychological pain is inflicted on convicts when they are executed. Therefore, the fact that Alireza’s execution did not take his life does not necessarily mean that he experienced any less pain than other convicts. Consequently, if the judicial authority proceeded with executing him again, that would surely double the amount of physical and psychological pain. At the very least, under the Constitution, executing twice would be cruel and unusual because of the simple fact that more pain is inflicted to carry out the same sentence.
Still, because he was sentenced to death, I believe he is not completely off the hook. The surface goal of a death sentence may be to punish a criminal for his or her crime, but it can be also interpreted as permanent banishment from society. Therefore, the Iranian government still has its duty to separate Alireza from society. Although I personally believe that the sentence is ridiculously harsh, I acknowledge that Iranian law is still final on Iranian soil. Therefore, the only option to satisfy both human rights and Iranian laws is to reduce Alireza’s punishment to life in prison. That way, the Iranian government prevents criminals from harming society while still respecting basic human rights.
Alex Cho is a sophomore political science major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at [email protected].