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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Benn went for a ride along the wall of the city


Here

is an example of Persian justice. While I was in bed with fever, one day Major and Mrs. Benn went for a ride along the wall of the city, with their usual escort. On reaching the city gate they saw several people come out, and they were startled by a shot being fired close by them, and a dead body was laid flat across the road. The dead man, it appeared, had been himself a murderer and had been kept in chains in the Amir's custody, pending trial. The verdict might have possibly turned in his favour had he been willing to grease the palms of the jailors, in accordance with old Persian custom; but although the man was very well off, he refused to disburse a single shai. He was therefore there and then handed over to the relations of the murdered man so that they should mete out to him what punishment they thought fit.

The man was instantly dragged through the streets of the city, and on arriving outside the city gate they shot him in the back. The body was then left in the road, the Persian crowd which had assembled round looking upon the occurrence as a great joke, and informing Major Benn that the corpse would remain there until some of his relations came to fetch it away. On referring the matter to the Governor the following day, he smilingly exclaimed: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!"--a quotation from the Koran that quite cleared his conscience.

This is a very common way of disposing of criminals

in Persia by allowing personal revenge to take its course. Although such ways of administering justice may not commend themselves to one, the moral of it as looked upon by Persian eyes is not as bad as it might at first appear. The honest, the well-to-do man, they reason, has nothing whatever to fear from anybody, and if a man chooses to be a criminal, he must take the consequences of it. The more severe the punishment the less crime there will be in the country. Persian law prevents crime.

In a province like Sistan, where the people are not quite up-to-date as in other parts of Persia, naturally, ways which to us may seem very cruel have to be applied by the Amir to impress the people. If fines to the maximum of the prisoner's purse are excepted, the usual way of satisfying the law for almost any offence, the next most common punishment is the bastinado applied on the bare soles of the feet. When an option is left to the prisoner of undergoing the bastinado or paying a fine, he generally selects the sticks, which he feels much less than the anguish of disbursing the smallest sum in cash. Minor crimes only are so punished--it is considered the lightest punishment. Occasionally it is used to obtain confessions. People are seldom known to die under it.

Disfigurement, or deprivation of essential limbs, such as one or more phalanges of fingers, or the ears or nose, is also much in vogue for thieves, house-breakers and highwaymen. For second offences of criminals so branded the whole hand or foot is cut off. Blinding, or rather, atrophizing the eyes by the application of a hot iron in front, but not touching them, such as is common all over Central Asia, is occasionally resorted to in the less civilised parts of Persia, but is not frequent now. I only saw one case of a man who had been so punished, but many are those who have the tendons of arms and legs cut--a favourite punishment which gives the most dreadfully painful appearance to those who have undergone it.

Imprisonment is considered too expensive for the Government, and is generally avoided except in the bigger cities. The prisoners have a very poor time of it, a number of them being chained close together.

To burn people or to bury them alive are severe punishments which are very seldom heard of now-a-days, but which occasionally take place in some remote districts and unknown to his Majesty the Shah, who has ever shown a tender heart and has done all in his power to suppress barbarous ways in his country; but cases or crucifixion and stoning to death have been known to have occurred not many years ago--if not as a direct punishment from officials, yet with their indirect sanction.


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