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Murder they wrote
Iran's version of the O.J. murder affair

June 23, 2004

How does one become an overnight superstar? To a faceless, nameless individual quietly doing their laundry or watching the news to someone who is front page news themselves?

In Iran, there are more limitations to that than there would be elsewhere. There is no room for scantily clad ladies or rugged good looking calendar boys. Superstars have been born for scoring a goal in the game of soccer against the United States of America, like Hamid Estili; falling out with the system as in Hashem Aghajari or making almost every Iranian proud of what they are trying to cut them out to be like Shirin Ebadi.

Now here comes a superstar of different sorts. She is a wildly known commodity that is very rarely acknowledged. She might exist in many homes and has passed by many others but she is the taboo most people choose to ignore. They will see her quietly creep in their every day lives, stay for a while, leave, or simply make way for someone else. And yet, they may still choose to overlook the dilemma. Until it blows up in their face for some reason or other.

Meet Khadijeh Jahed, a.k.a Shahla [BBC news]. She is Nasser Mohammad-Khani's mistress of 4 years in an uptown Tehran apartment and his wife's accused murderer. He is a well known soccer player of his time. It is Iran's own version of the OJ Simpson affair. Even the man involved is in football -- just the Iranian version of it.

Huge blown up pictures of her face have ran across every daily newspaper published in the Islamic Republic of Iran, from the leftists' papers to rightists' and even the middlemen. She is the talk of the town, the bell of the ball. Iranian national TV has given all three of her public court appearances -- she also had a private one -- big coverage. People every where spend their time speaking of the details. Overnight, she has become a sensation.

It is not just her story that gives her appeal, but also her appearance. While we are used to seeing female prisoners with dark circles under their eyes and dark veils covering them from head to toe, she shows up to court with colorful wardrobe, fully pancaked in makeup, her hair neatly fixed under her scarf. She knows when to faint, when to cry, what to say and when to say it. And especially, how to react during the regular disputes with the victim's family outside the courtroom.

What is interesting about this scenario are all the taboos being broken. Unlike the norm, the couple has not claimed to have been under Islamic temporary marriage -- "sigheh"; rather, they admit to have been having an affair. Upon her arrest, she has confessed to a murder. But now she claims that it was not the one she is accused of. Rather, she was referring to the baby she was carrying, whom she aborted, just because she did not want to make "Nasser unhappy."

But why all the attention? Except for a few cheap, tabloid like papers, Iranian media - at least in recent years -- has not been known to follow such stories this wildly. To see it on Iranian TV is a shock to just about everybody. As the conspiracy theory would leave us to believe, the system is trying to divert attention from all the recent dilemmas: the phony parliament, the earthquake, the issues still lingering over at the IAEA. But no matter what the reason, most people aren't complaining. The story is just too interesting for that.

With the verdict in today, she has been handed down the death penalty. And as in the male dominated society she is living in, the male in this story is the one to bear the least problems. His wife was killed, his lover in the process of being killed. And with this verdict, he gets 74 slashes for "unIslamic misconduct" including use of drugs.

And as for the star herself, her lawyers will most likely appeal the verdict. She will go to court again, have more pictures taken, be center stage for more conversations. And who knows? She may even one day be Iran's very first ex-convict turned talk show host exploring the most gruesome, unheard of aspects of the human specie. 

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By Najmeh Fakhraie


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