Balal, who killed an Iranian youth Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, is brought to the gallows by judicial officals during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
Balal, who killed an Iranian youth Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, is brought to the gallows by judicial officals during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.Arash Khamooshi—AFP/Getty Images
Balal, who killed an Iranian youth Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, is brought to the gallows by judicial officals during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
The mother of an Iranian man Balal, who killed a fellow Iranian Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, asks for the family's forgiveness as her son is brought to the gallows during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
Balal, who killed an Iranian youth Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, is brought to the gallows during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
Balal is pictured blindfolded next to a noose during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
Balal reacts as he stands in the gallows during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
Samereh Alinejad, and Abdolghani Hosseinzadeh, the parents of Abdolah Hosseinzadeh, stand next to the gallows during Balal's execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
The mother of Abdolah Hosseinzadeh, who was murdered in 2007, slaps Balal who killed her son during the execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014 just before she removed the noose around his neck with the help of her husband, sparing the life of her son's convicted murderer.
The mother of Abdolah Hosseinzadeh, who was murdered in 2007, removes the noose with the help of her husband from around the neck of Balal, who killed her son, during the execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014, sparing the life of her son's convicted murderer.
Samereh Alinejad, the mother of Abdolah Hosseinzadeh, cries after she spared the life of her son's convicted murderer with an emotional slap in the face as he awaited execution with the noose around his neck in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
The mother of an Iranian man Balal who killed an Iranian youth Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, cries with the mother of Abdolah Hosseinzadeh after she forgave Balal, giving him an emotional slap prior to removing the noose around his neck in the gallows during his execution ceremony in the northern city of Nowshahr on April 15, 2014.
Balal, who killed an Iranian youth Abdolah Hosseinzadeh in a street fight with a knife in 2007, is brought to the gallow
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Arash Khamooshi—AFP/Getty Images
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Execution, Interrupted: Killer's Life Spared Moments Before Hanging

Apr 17, 2014

Correction: Appended, April 18.

Balal was standing on a chair, blindfolded and with a noose around his neck, when the mother of the man he stabbed to death seven years ago approached him, the Guardian reports. According to some interpretations of Shari‘a, the victim’s family participates in the punishment by pushing the chair from under the condemned man. But this time, the mother of the victim slapped Balal across the face and then helped the victim's father remove the noose.

Photographer Arash Khamooshi captured the unexpected moment on April 15 in the northern Iranian city of Nowshahr. Khamooshi was following the public execution from the beginning, when Balal was dragged to the gallows in front of a crowd of onlookers that included Balal’s mother. And Khamooshi captured the aftermath, when the mothers of the murderer and the victim embraced.

But while Balal’s fortune is the story of forgiveness, hundreds of other condemned Iranians are not as lucky. An Amnesty International report released earlier this year found that Iran put to death at least 369 people and likely several hundreds of others -- more people than any country in the world except China. Last week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rebuked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for failing to improve human rights, including its high level of executions.

The victim's family had already received calls from across the country, including from the prominent sportscaster Adel Ferdosipour, to forgive Balal, and she said her son came to her in a dream days before the execution to tell her that he was in a good place and that she should not avenge his death. Her ultimate decision spares Balal the death penalty according to Iranian law but does not necessarily free him from prison.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to the victim's parents.

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