The Iranian Supreme Court has overturned the murder convictions of six members of a prestigious state militia who killed five people they considered “morally corrupt.” The reversal, in an infamous five-year-old case from Kerman, in central Iran, has produced anger and controversy, with lawyers calling it corrupt and newspapers giving it prominence.
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Three lower court rulings found all the men guilty of murder. Their cases had been appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the guilty verdicts. The latest decision, made public this week, reaffirms that reversal.
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According to the Supreme Court’s earlier decision, the killers, who are members of the Basiji Force, volunteer vigilantes favored by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, considered their victims morally corrupt and, according to Islamic teachings and Iran’s Islamic penal code, their blood could therefore be shed. The last victims, for example, were a young couple engaged to be married who the killers claimed were walking together in public.
Members of the Basiji Force are known for attacking reformist politicians and pro-democracy meetings. President Ahmadinejad was a member of the force, but the Supreme Court judges who issued the ruling are not considered to be specifically affiliated with it.
Iran’s Islamic penal code, which is a parallel system to its civic code, says murder charges can be dropped if the accused can prove the killing was carried out because the victim was morally corrupt. This is true even if the killer identified the victim mistakenly as corrupt. In that case, the law requires “blood money” to be paid to the family. Every year in Iran, a senior cleric determines the amount of blood money required in such cases. This year it is $40,000 if the victim is a Muslim man, and half that for a Muslim woman or a non-Muslim.