Iranian Jewish Family Faces Steep Cost in Battle To Save Son from Execution 

Arvin Nathaniel Ghahremani’s family and international human rights groups fight to commute his death sentence, highlighting Iran’s severe judicial practices and discrimination 

By Veronica Neifkah/The Media Line 

The Iranian government has postponed the execution of Arvin Nathaniel Ghahremani, a 20-year-old Jewish man from the Iranian city of Kermanshah, initially scheduled for Monday, May 20, 2024. Convicted of murdering a Muslim man, Ghahremani’s case has drawn significant attention from international human rights organizations and his family, who have been tirelessly advocating for clemency. The mounting global pressure is urging relatives of the deceased to accept a payoff to commute the death sentence. 

The incident dates back to November 2022, when Ghahremani was reportedly involved in a fatal altercation after being attacked with a knife by Amir Shokri. Iranian courts sentenced Ghahremani to death under the penal code for “retributive justice” despite claims of self-defense. This case has highlighted the severe judicial practices in Iran, which have seen 223 executions, including women, in 2024 alone. 

To gain deeper insights into the current situation, The Media Line interviewed Yasmin Shalom Mottahedeh, who left Iran in the 1980s and still maintains strong ties with the Jewish community there, and Thamar E. Gindin, an Iran-focused researcher at the University of Haifa’s Ezri Center for Iran and Gulf States Research. 

Gindin explained that the execution penalty is relevant to Jews and non-Jews alike. 

“This [sentence] has nothing to do with him being Jewish. It has to do with the fact that he killed a man. Ghahremani says that Shokri threatened him and his family and came to him with a knife. Because Ghahremani is a taekwondo artist, he knew how to neutralize the attacker, took his knife and stabbed,” Gindin told The Media Line. 

“The family of the murdered man is not ready to hear about forgiving Ghahremani and wants to execute him. Jews of Iran are very concerned and, in addition, they are afraid to talk,” added Mottahedeh. 

Gindin shared that the family of the deceased wouldn’t even talk to Ghahremani’s family. 

“The Jewish family offered a high price, and the Jewish representative in Parliament tried to talk to the Muslim family. They wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t even negotiate. They demand his execution; in such a case, no one can change the decision,” she said. 

Iran’s judicial system, particularly the Revolutionary Courts, is notorious for its harsh sentences and lack of due process. Trials are often expedited, and confessions are frequently obtained under torture. This system disproportionately affects minorities. Iranian law also discriminates against non-Muslims, particularly in cases involving retributive justice (“qisas”), where a non-Muslim convicted of killing a Muslim faces harsher penalties than a Muslim convicted of killing a non-Muslim. 

Gindin explained that in Iran, murder is punishable either by execution or by a very high fine, which is about $300,000 for the soul of a Muslim man. 

“A Muslim woman is worth about half of it, and non-Muslims are worth a lot less. But the people who will decide if it’s execution or a high sum of money are only the family of the deceased,” she added. 

Mottahedeh explained that Jewish representatives in the Parliament and influential Jews of Iran are knocking on every door to ask for forgiveness and cancel the death sentence. 

“They met with the representative of Kermanshah and collected a huge amount of money to buy his release. They even suggested that the Jewish family of the victim build a school and a mosque. Now, the postponement of the execution of the sentence is a sign of hope,” she said. 

Gindin explained that the court in Iran has no choice but to accept what the family says unless a Jewish man has proven that it was in self-defense. 

“In this case, maybe it would have been another charge,” she added. 

The Jewish community, both in Iran and globally, has expressed deep concern over Ghahremani’s plight, viewing it as a miscarriage of justice. Prominent figures and community leaders have called for collective prayers and international intervention. Ghahremani’s family and international rights groups continue to seek a resolution, hoping to prevent his execution and shed light on the broader issues of legal discrimination faced by minorities in Iran. 

“Jews of the world, especially in America and Israel, showed a lot of sensitivity. The situation was even discussed in Israeli television channels,” said Mottahedeh. 

“When the community saw that the execution was scheduled, they started to echo it worldwide. It got Ghahremani another month. Now that there’s a big publicity of the case, maybe they’ll succeed in talking to the deceased family,” said Gindin. 

The plight of Ghahremani also underscores the broader historical context of the Jewish community in Iran, which has faced varying degrees of discrimination and persecution over centuries. Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran had a flourishing Jewish population of around 100,000. However, post-revolution, this number has dwindled to an estimated 8,000 to 15,000 Jews since many Jews have emigrated due to the new regime’s policies. 

Gindin explained that Iran is still the second-largest Jewish community in the Middle East after Israel. 

“It’s between 9,000 and 25,000 people. The most exact estimation I heard was 15,000 based on the number of matzahs sold during Pesach. We have to acknowledge that Jews have representatives in Parliament, their communities, and the chief rabbi of the state. A few years ago, when there was a synagogue desecrated in Shiraz, the police found the desecrators very fast,” she explained. 

According to Gindin, when the Islamic Republic tried to show solidarity with Gaza and hate towards Israel, they couldn’t get people to do that. 

“In stadiums, for example, when they tried to have a moment of silence for the victims in Gaza, the crowd cheered, yelled, and honked—everything except silence. When they tried to hold a big conference about Gaza, there was hardly any presence there. There are a lot of videos of schools trying to force students to shout ‘Death to Israel,’ but everybody chants back ‘Death to Palestine,’” she said. 

According to Mottahedeh, Arabs in Iran mostly understand that the murder was an act of self-defense. 

“I don’t think they are taking a side against Arvin Nathaniel. They understand that he came to defend himself, especially considering that Amir Shokri comes from a family of dishonest and unreliable people,” she said. 

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