On August 15th 2004, Atefah was hung in public. She was hoisted on a crane and struggled for 45mins before death. She was only 16 years old.


At the age of only four or five years old, Atefah mother passed away and her distraught father’s subsequent drug addiction. Atefah had a difficult childhood. In a town like Neka, heavily under the control of religious authorities, Atefah – often seen wandering around on her own – was conspicuous. It was just a matter of time before she came to the attention of the “moral police”, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, whose job it is to enforce the Islamic code of behaviour on Iran’s streets.

Being previously arrested for attending a party and alone in a car with a boy, Atefah received her first sentence for “crimes against chastity” when she was just 13. Although the exact nature of the crime is unknown, she spent a short time in prison and received 100 lashes.

She told those close to her that lashes were not the only things she had to endure in prison. She described abuse by the moral police guards.

Soon after her release, Atefah became involved in an abusive relationship with a man three times her age. Former revolutionary guard, 51-year-old Ali Darabi – a married man with children – raped her several times. She kept the relationship a secret from both her family and the authorities. Atefah was soon caught in a downward spiral of arrest and abuse.

Circumstances surrounding Atefah’s fourth and final arrest were unusual. The moral police said the locals had submitted a petition, describing her as a “source of immorality” and a “terrible influence on local schoolgirls”. But there were no signatures on the petition – only those of the arresting guards.

Three days after her arrest, Atefah was in a court and tried under Sharia law. The judge was the powerful Haji Rezai, head of the judiciary in Neka. No court transcript is available from Atefah’s trial, but it is known that for the first time, Atefah confessed to the secret of her sexual abuse by Ali Darabi.

However, the age of sexual consent for girls under Sharia law – within the confines of marriage – is nine, and furthermore, rape is very hard to prove in an Iranian court.

When Atefah realised her case was hopeless, she shouted back at the judge and threw off her veil in protest. It was a fatal outburst.

She was sentenced to execution by hanging, while Darabi got just 95 lashes. Shortly before the execution, but unbeknown to her family, documents that went to the Supreme Court of Appeal described Atefah as 22. “Neither the judge nor even Atefah’s court appointed lawyer did anything to find out her true age,” says her father. And a witness claims: “The judge just looked at her body, because of the developed physique… and declared her as 22.”

Judge Haji Rezai took Atefah’s documents to the Supreme Court himself. And at six o’clock on the morning of her execution he put the noose around her neck, before she was hoisted on a crane to her death.

During the making of the documentary about Atefah’s death the production team telephoned Judge Haji Rezai to ask him about the case, but he refused to comment. The human rights organisation Amnesty International says it is concerned that executions are becoming more common again under President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad, who advocates a return to the pure values of the revolution.

The judiciary have never admitted there was any mishandling of Atefah’s case.

For Atefah’s father the pain of her death remains raw. “She was my love, my heart… I did everything for her, everything I could,” he says.

He did not get the chance to say goodbye.