In a dramatic turn of events in Noor, northern Iran, a young man was granted the right to live just minutes before he was due to be executed in public.

On April 15th, people gathered outside the courthouse in Noor, Mazandaran province, to witness the hanging of a man convicted of murder. But, in a last-minute move, the family of murder victim Abdollah Hoseinzadeh announced that they had forgiven the man responsible for his death and that the execution should not go ahead. In a moment described by some onlookers as “breathtaking”, the mother of the murdered man climbed the steps to the platform where the man awaited his death and released the noose from around his neck.

The murder took place six years previously, during a fight between Hoseinzadeh and a man called “Balal” in Noor. After lengthy court proceedings, the judiciary sentenced Balal to death by hanging. In sentences of this type, executions are routinely carried out in public, attended by ordinary citizens.

Two days before the execution was due to take place, Iran’s most popular football television show, Navad TV, broadcast a discussion on the case. It was hosted by the show’s producer and presenter Adel Ferdosipoor following a request from ISNA news agency. Because the father of the murdered man had been a football player and is now a local football coach, the case was of particular interest to the show’s audience.

During the broadcast, Ferdosipoor spoke to the family of the murdered young man, urging them to intervene and stop the execution. Mohsen Bengar, a footballer for Perspolis club, also took part, appealing to Hoseinzadeh's family to forgive Balal and thereby stay his execution.

Although there had been rumors that the family might forgive Balal, the last-minute act of mercy was nonetheless extremely emotional. As the sun rose, family members of the murdered man were the first to gather at the scene where the execution was due to take place. The accused family gathered there too, begging for forgiveness for the man and supported by others who believed the execution should not go ahead.

The accused man, Balal, was also overtaken by emotion, shouting and turning away from the designated area for the execution. He was forced to step up to the platform and a rope was placed around his neck.

There were some who voiced disappointment when Abdollah Hoseinzadeh’s family announced that they had forgiven the man and the Hoseinzadeh’s mother removed the noose. But this was soon followed by cheers and cries of happiness from the crowd.

Public execution has become increasingly common in Iran, with more public hangings taking place since Rouhani’s election as president in 2013 than in previous years. Public attendance at hangings has been well documented. Overall, the government and many religious clerics uphold the practice as an important part of the Islamic Republic’s religious ethos, regarding it as a deterrent for criminal activity.

At the same time, over the last two years, there have been many attempts to stay executions, some of them successful. Prominent members of Iran’s artistic and music communities have often been involved in campaigns to free those awaiting execution. These efforts reveal that, although the regime insists on using execution as a means of dealing with serious crime, there is a strong resistance movement steadily growing in the country -- among ordinary citizens and prominent members of society alike.

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