So said Rey­haneh Jab­bari in her fi­nal mes­sage be­fore she was hanged in Iran for killing a man whom she ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to rape her.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By Susan McClel­land

One woman’s let­ters from death row in Iran.

n early 2007, Rey­haneh Jab­bari had dreams. “Once upon a time,” she wrote in one of the let­ters she penned while on death row at Shahr-e Ray prison out­side Tehran, Iran, “I was liv­ing free from pain and suf­fer­ing in a home built with love and com­pas­sion.” But all that changed when Jab­bari was 19 and in her third se­mes­ter at univer­sity, where she was study­ing com­puter soft­ware.

She tells her story through the let­ters. One day, while at an ice cream store, an older man, Morteza Sar­bandi, over­heard her talk­ing on the phone about her part-time work as an in­te­rior de­signer. He ap­proached her, in­tro­duc­ing him­self as a doc­tor, and ex­plained that he wanted his of­fice re­dec­o­rated. Sev­eral weeks later, on July 7, 2007, Sar­bandi and a male friend picked Jab­bari up to visit his of­fice, but the friend ex­ited the car be­fore they ar­rived.

When she got to the space, she was shocked. “It was not an of­fice,” she wrote. “This was a run­down res­i­den­tial flat filled with dirt and dust.” As Jab­bari ner­vously be­gan to sketch and take notes, she said, Sar­bandi locked the door, cov­ered the sofa with a bed­sheet and then showed her a con­dom and asked if she knew what it was for. “I knew. Fear seized my soul. I stood up. I seemed smaller and weaker sit­ting down. He came for­ward,” she wrote.

Then she saw a knife and grabbed it. “It was too small to even scare him. He was laugh­ing,” she wrote. As they strug­gled, she con­tin­ued, “I raised my hand and with all my hopes and dreams in my mind I stabbed him.” She said he sat on the floor and pulled the knife out of his back while she searched for the key to get out of the apart­ment. Then he came at her once more “and punched with his blood­ied hand. I ran to­wards the door and tried open­ing it by stab­bing the door.... Then I heard the sound of [a] key turn­ing in the door.” Sar­bandi’s friend en­tered the room and she ran out. Sar­bandi later died in the hos­pi­tal.

Jab­bari was con­victed of mur­der; she was sentenced to death in 2009 and hanged on Oc­to­ber 25, 2014. She was 26. Dur­ing the seven years she spent in prison, she said that her only sal­va­tion was writ­ing long let­ters to her mother with what­ever she could find: She picked pieces of scrap pa­per out of the garbage and some­times even wrote with a pen that other pris­on­ers used to tat­too them­selves. Ira­nian pris­on­ers are al­lowed to write let­ters, but writ­ing about the ju­di­cial sys­tem and prison con­di­tions is il­le­gal, ac­cord­ing to Mo­ham­mad Mostafaei, who is one of Iran’s most suc­cess­ful crim­i­nal-de­fence lawyers and who rep­re­sented Jab­bari. Some of her let­ters were taken by guards and likely de­stroyed, but more than 40,000 of her words sur­vived after she gave them to fel­low pris­on­ers who were about to be re­leased.

I came by some of th­ese let­ters via Mostafaei, who’d had them trans­lated from Farsi into English by var­i­ous peo­ple in Iran who can­not be named for their pro­tec­tion. Some were posted on Face­book to raise aware­ness about her case. Mostafaei has been in­stru­men­tal in launch­ing in­ter­na­tional cam­paigns to re­verse the sen­tences of some of the coun­try’s high­est-pro­file hu­man-rights cases, in­clud­ing chil­dren fac­ing the death penalty and Sakineh Mo­ham­madi Ash­tiani, a woman who, in 2006, was sentenced to death by ston­ing for adul­tery. Last March, Ash­tiani re­ceived a par­don, and she has since been re­leased from prison.

“When Rey­haneh left Sar­bandi after the at­tack, he was alive,” says Mostafaei, who was forced into ex­ile in 2010 due to his hu­man-rights work and de­fence of Ash­tiani. While run­ning the Univer­sal Tol­er­ance Or­ga­ni­za­tion, a non-profit group based in Norway, he con­tin­ued to help on Jab­bari’s case as an ad­viser. “There is no way the wounds she in­flicted could have re­sulted in his death,” he fur­ther ex­plains. “The third per­son who came into the room... no one ever looked into that be­cause of con­nec­tions to peo­ple high up in the Ira­nian in­tel­li­gence. [Sar­bandi was a for­mer em­ployee of Iran’s Min­istry of In­tel­li­gence.] Then there is the is­sue of self-de­fence. Rey­haneh had no in­ten­tion of killing another per­son. She stabbed him with a knife to pro­tect her­self.”

Un­der Ira­nian law, Sar­bandi’s fam­ily could have granted Jab­bari clemency from the death penalty, but they wouldn’t—al­legedly, one of the fam­ily’s con­di­tions was that she re­tract her claims of at­tempted rape against Sar­bandi. She re­fused.

Jab­bari tes­ti­fy­ing in an Ira­nian court in 2008

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