Murderer saved by victim's mother
The execution of an Iranian convicted of murder was dramatically halted at the very last minute when the mother of his victim forgave him as he stood on the gallows with the noose around his neck, according to Iranian media.
The convict, identified by his first name Bilal, had been sentenced to death for killing teenager Abdollah Hosseinzadeh during a street fight in the market of the northern Iranian town of Nour seven years ago, the ISNA news agency reported.
At the time, both Bilal and Abdollah were about 17 years old, ISNA said.
Bilal was taken blindfolded to the site of his planned execution in a town square on Tuesday. He stood on a chair on the gallows and the noose was put on his neck, according to pictures of the scene published by ISNA.
But at the last minute, Abdollah's mother, Samereh Alinejad, forgave him, after giving a speech to the crowd and then slapping Bilal in the face. Abdollah's father helped take the noose off Bilal, whose weeping mother hugged Ms Alinejad in thanks, as seen in the photos.
Abdollah's family had come under pressure from famous artists, soccer coaches and town residents to pardon Bilal and accept blood money instead of execution, a provision allowed to victim's families under Iranian law.
Bilal was a student of Abdollah's father, a well-known former local soccer player who now coaches the sport. Even an episode of a popular sports programme on Iranian state television had urged the family to forgive Bilal the day before his planned execution.
Ms Alinejad told the Shargh newspaper in an interview that she had resisted the pressure, including from her own family. She and her husband, who also have a daughter, lost another son in a car crash years earlier.
She told Shargh that Abdollah appeared to her in a dream and asked her to forgive his killer, and still she was reluctant. She said that, in her speech at the gallows, she scolded the crowd for pressuring her to forgive, saying: "Do you know what I have gone through all these years and how my life became like poison?"
But after Bilal pleaded with her - and she slapped him - "I felt at ease" and forgave him, she said.
Bilal will serve a prison sentence instead of being executed, according to the newspaper.
Iran has the second highest number of executions in the world - 369 in 2013 - after China, according to Amnesty International.