In the past month, the Iranian media has been awash with news of the first blinding-by-acid sentence issued by the Iranian judiciary. Majid Movahedi, an Iranian man, was convicted of throwing acid on the face of Amaneh Bahrami, an Iranian woman who rejected his marriage proposal. Bahrami was left blind in both eyes and severely disfigured by the attack and her assailant has been in prison for the past seven years.

Based on the Islamic principle of ghesas, which calls for punishment equivalent to what the crime inflicted, the judiciary has voted to have Movahedi blinded by acid.

The procedure, which is to be carried out in a hospital by either the victim or medical professionals, was postponed last week.

Bahrami had previously announced she was willing to carry out the sentence herself.

The undeniable suffering of the victim and her determination to claim retribution, along with the willingness of the state and the judiciary to issue the unprecedented sentence of blinding by acid, have triggered a widespread debate among Iranians. Radio Zamaneh, as an objective forum for expressing a wide spectrum of perspectives and promoting constructive communication, has been able to reflect and explore that controversy.

On May 14, the day Movahedi was to originally undergo his sentence, Amin Bozorgian published an article entitled “Amaneh and those two drops of acid” in which he delves into the public anxiety over the sentence.

“Why do we criticize and feel anxious about the two drops of acid that are to be dispensed? Why all the anxiety?… Could it be that in the subconscious of our blatantly ‘honour-bound’ society we are protesting this: ‘Why should one who tried to protect his ‘honour’ be punished?”

With this introduction, and with his critique of “honour” and its male chauvinistic expressions in the Iranian culture and mentality, Bozorgian examines the concept of ghesas in Islamic jurisprudence and its reflection in society. He argues that, on the one hand, it is suffocating the spread of humane values and, on the other hand, it promotes vengeful behaviour and further violence by re-enacting the violence of heinous crimes.

Amin Bozorgian’s article triggered an outraged response from the sister of the victim. A letter from Shirin Bahrami was published two days later on Zamaneh.

This is a close translation of Shirin Bahrami’s letter.

Mr. Bozorgian!
Understanding what you have only seen from a distance is very difficult. You have only read about it. You have not seen! You see the “crime” on paper and fail to understand its effects on our lives, capabilities, destiny and future. Talk is easy and lovely but acting is far more difficult. If you were my sister, you would not ask for ghesas? She is willing to settle for a punishment of life imprisonment but she knows that it is not possible. Therefore, she feels it’s better to cut off the invasive, male chauvinistic and selfish hand of Majid, as ghesas provides, so that he will never again assault or inflict harm on anyone.

You must remember that my sister never represented the so-called “honour” of Majid or anyone else; not even of her father or brothers. My father always stayed away from such words and brought us up with a belief in equality, away from fanaticism and all such patriarchal concepts. Your use of the word “honour” is revolting and nauseating to me. I apologize for saying it, but these words can only be found in the vocabulary of the uneducated and not in the minds of freethinking men and women who are suffering on the path of freedom and feel the boot prints of ignorance and oppression on their face. If you wrote your article just to attract readers, that’s another issue.

Do you guarantee that if Majid Movahedi is released without ghesas, my sister, my family and I, as the main plaintiff, will be safe? You cannot begin to understand the extent of Amaneh’s medical treatment, for which the Movahedi family has not even bothered to offer any help. Do you know how much each of Amaneh’s operations, even with all available discounts, has cost us? Anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 euros. Add to that the cost of medication, ointments and creams applied over and over again each day. Where were you when Amaneh went to take a shower on her own and passed out when she found her eye socket empty?

Amaneh is very strong. She did not cry, or complain in front of us. She always consoled us instead. She does not deserve to be accused of vengefulness and cruelty, nor to be judged unfairly in order to secure an audience for someone.

You should think carefully before discussing something. This is not a story. It is something that actually occurred, completely crushing our lives and future. We nurse her day and night, always waiting and worrying that her situation will decline. With the disappearance of her eyes, eyebrows, cheeks and lips, she is constantly asking me if she is very ugly now. And what shall I say to my little sister? The truth, a lie or a meaningless conjecture?

Have you ever been in my shoes, feeling ashamed of being attractive and healthy? No! But I have been ashamed of my ordinary beauty, of the fact that I see and my little sister can’t. For years, I have felt guilty and ashamed.

When my sister asks me to describe a room or a space, I writhe in pain. When she walks into the door or the wall and apologizes when she walks into people, I suffer in silence. When she found herself alone and lost, trying to get by with a walking stick, I felt the world crumbling upon my head. I wanted to cease existence and disappear and just not witness such things. You speak of suffering but we have lived it.

Despite being taught to be civil with people, I have had to harshly put people in their place to stop them from voicing their dismay in front of Amaneh, my parents or my little brothers. You cannot imagine how I have suffered whenever people were awestruck at the sight of my little sister. I try to silence them with dirty looks, anxious that Amaneh not sense their pity.

I remember one day when my brother came home unexpectedly to surprise us after a three-month absence, and how he was surprised instead. My other brother could only look on in shocked and silent disbelief. The day Amaneh’s eyelid fell down and her burnt eye was revealed, my mother and brother were frozen stiff. None of us dared to touch her eye. We feared the burnt eye would ooze out any minute. But someone had to pull her eyelid up and cover the eye. I did it. And still to this day I tremble at the memory of that moment and many others that were similar or even worse. I had no answer when my brother asked why she was writhing so and couldn’t bear to stand still or sit. I should be thankful that Amaneh was not there to hear how we cried, her four siblings; she had gone to change the dressing of her wounds.

After that episode, we promised each other to be strong in front of Amaneh, to make her laugh and to give her hope.
And yet you sit so facilely in “judgement”? What gives you the right?

Iranians are continuing the discussions about justice, human dignity, forgiveness and social responsibility that were triggered by Amaneh Bahrami’s ordeal, and Radio Zamaneh has been able to reflect some of the highlights.
Amin Bozorgian wrote in response to Shirin Bahrami’s letter, praising her sense of responsibility as revealed by her taking part in the debate around her sister’s situation. Bozorgian writes:

I never sat in judgement and I have no advice to offer Amaneh. I am only trying to discover my own role in the disfigurement of her face. If I were in Amaneh’s shoes or yours, I would have liked to have been able to forego Majid’s sentence of ghesas and tell society through my writings: “Look at my face and eyes and be ashamed. Live humanely among yourselves…” But I do not know if I truly could have done that.