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Two Iranian women worlds apart Add to ...

One is a 26-year-old model, aspiring pop singer, student of international studies and former Canadian beauty queen living in Vancouver. The other is an 18-year-old, poor, uneducated ethnic Kurd on death row in Iran for killing a predator trying to rape her.

They share a first name as well as Iranian roots.

Since news emerged of Nazanin Fatehi's conviction this year, Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the 2003 Miss World runner-up, has spearheaded a growing international campaign to save Ms. Fatehi from execution.

Recently, Ms. Afshin-Jam has managed to attract some high-profile support, including former Liberal foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy, now president of the University of Winnipeg, and Liberal MP Belinda Stronach.

“Everybody who I've talked to, experts who work on these kinds of things, say the more noise one makes on the matter the better it is to try to release somebody,” Ms. Afshin-Jam said in an interview.

Ms. Afshin-Jam is both glamorous and attuned to the world.

When she was an infant, she said, she and her family fled Iran during the 1979 revolution after her father was hounded and then jailed by the revolutionary guards.

The family lived briefly in Spain and France before settling in Canada, which Ms. Afshin-Jam took to with particular abandon.

Ms. Afshin-Jam became a Royal Canadian Air Cadet and studied political science and international relations at the University of British Columbia and in Europe, all the while maintaining a keen interest in her homeland.

She heard about the Fatehi case through a fan of her music, a career she launched after the end of her beauty-queen days.

Her pageant appearances had sparked some hate mail from Islamic fundamentalists.

“Thankfully I got far more mail from young women in Iran who gave me support and looked to me as a role model,” she said on her website.

Details of the Fatehi case and where it sits in Iran's judicial process are unclear and scarce. Some of them come from the German-based International Committee Against Executions, led by an Iranian exile, and from Amnesty International.

Amnesty, quoting reports in the Iranian newspaper E'temaad, said that Ms. Fatehi told the court that three men approached her and her niece, forced them to the ground and tried to rape them. Seeking to defend her niece and herself, Ms. Fatehi, 17 at the time, stabbed one man in the hand with a knife that she carried and then, when the men continued to pursue them, stabbed another of the men in the chest.

“I wanted to defend myself and my niece,” she reportedly told the court in Karaj, west of Tehran. “I did not want to kill that boy. At the heat of the moment I did not know what to do because no one came to our help.”

Through intermediaries and written questions, Ms. Afshin-Jam has “interviewed” Ms. Fatehi, the eldest of six children in a poor Kurdish family. Ms. Fatehi was unable to attend school because she was responsible for helping to care for her siblings. Her father is too ill to hold a job; her mother works as a housecleaner.

According to Ms. Afshin-Jam, Ms. Fatehi is struggling to cope.

“I'm alone here, and I am scared,” Ms. Afshin-Jam quotes her as saying. “To bear this situation is difficult. I want to see the day outside of here. I miss outside. To all those who are helping save my life, I thank them.”

As a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran has undertaken not to execute anyone for an offence committed when he or she was under the age of 18.

Nevertheless, Amnesty International has recorded 18 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990. In 2005 alone, at least eight executions of child offenders were recorded.

The Fatehi case, said Ms. Stronach, is “very sad.”

“In life,” she added, “if you have an ability to influence something and you have a platform, then I think you have a greater responsibility to get involved in [correcting]such injustices.”

Ms. Stronach has written to another high-profile Canadian, Louise Arbour, the former Canadian Supreme Court justice who is the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Mr. Axworthy, meanwhile, is urging all Canadians to rally to save Ms. Fatehi's life.

“Time is of the essence,” he said in a statement.

Ms. Stronach will be meeting Ms. Afshin-Jam when the former pageant star comes to Ottawa. The goal is to get more parliamentarians on side, to put pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran so that the execution order can be overturned.

Negar Azmudeh, a Vancouver immigration lawyer with an interest in human-rights issues, is working with Ms. Afshin-Jam on the case. Ms. Azmudeh said that efforts are being made to help the Fatehi family hire a lawyer with experience in such cases, and that feelers are being put out to determine whether the dead man's family would consider a so-called “blood-money” option available under Islamic law.

Ms. Afshin-Jam said that such an option, whereby Ms. Fatehi's life could be spared in exchange for a financial settlement, remains a possibility even though Ms. Fatehi “is the victim of an attempted rape and now she's being treated like a criminal.”

“It's an option we're keeping in mind because we have to work within the system if you want results in the end. We're prepared to fundraise and go that route but we don't necessarily want to do that.”

John Tackaberry of Amnesty International Canada said that, according to the Iranian penal code, Iran's supreme court could uphold the execution order but grant a stay to allow the families to negotiate a blood-money settlement. He said it could also reject the order on the grounds that Ms. Fatehi acted in self-defence.

It remains unclear when the supreme court will review the case. Attempts to reach officials at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa for clarification were unsuccessful.

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