documentary team has pieced together details
surrounding the case of a 16-year-old girl, executed
two years ago in Iran.
Sahaaleh: wrongly described as being
22 years old
On 15 August, 2004, Atefah Sahaaleh was hanged in
a public square in the Iranian city of Neka.
Her death sentence was imposed for "crimes
The state-run newspaper accused her of adultery
and described her as 22 years old.
But she was not married - and she was just 16.
In terms of the number of people executed by the
state in 2004, Iran is estimated to be second only
In the year of Atefah's death, at least 159
people were executed in accordance with the Islamic
law of the country, based on the Sharia code.
Since the revolution, Sharia law has been Iran's
highest legal authority.
Alongside murder and drug smuggling, sex outside
marriage is also a capital crime.
As a signatory of the International Convention on
Civil and Political Rights, Iran has promised not to
execute anyone under the age of 18.
But the clerical courts do not answer to
parliament. They abide by their religious supreme
leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, making it virtually
impossible for human rights campaigners to call them
Code of behaviour
At the time of Atefah's execution in Neka,
journalist Asieh Amini heard rumours the girl was
just 16 years old and so began to ask questions.
teach others a lesson, Atefah's
execution was held in public
"When I met with the family," says Asieh, "they
showed me a copy of her birth certificate, and a
copy of her death certificate. Both of them show she
was born in 1988. This gave me legitimate grounds to
investigate the case."
So why was such a young girl executed? And how
could she have been accused of adultery when she was
not even married?
Disturbed by the death of her mother when she was
only four or five years old, and her distraught
father's subsequent drug addiction, Atefah had a
She was also left to care for her elderly
grandparents, but they are said to have shown her no
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
Being stopped or arrested by the moral police is
a fact of life for many Iranian teenagers.
Previously arrested for attending a party and
being 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.
Atefah was soon caught in a
downward spiral of arrest and abuse
When she returned to her home town, 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
Former revolutionary guard, 51-year-old Ali
Darabi - a married man with children - raped her
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.
is accepted much more clearly and
much more easily than women
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.
"Men's word is accepted much more clearly and
much more easily than women," according to Iranian
lawyer and exile Mohammad Hoshi.
"They can say: 'You know she encouraged me' or
'She didn't wear proper dress'."
Court of appeal
When Atefah realised her case was hopeless, she
shouted back at the judge and threw off her veil in
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.
Pain and 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
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.