“Death of a Teenager”

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Atefah Sahaaleh: executed at 16 for a “crime against chastity”

Last year producer Monica Garnsey travelled undercover to Iran to investigate the execution of teenager Atefah Sahaaleh. An account of her journey is here, in The Guardian. Below is an excerpt:

On November 26 2005, I travelled to Iran to research and film undercover the documentary Execution of a Teenage Girl. The programme tells the story of Atefah Sahaaleh, 16, from northern Iran, hanged in public in August 2004 for having had sex outside marriage, a so-called “crime against chastity”.

A number of Iranian journalists and lawyers had strong evidence that the judiciary had broken Iran’s own law in executing Atefah. But because of the censorship of the Iranian press, it was extremely difficult for them to get the truth to a wider audience.

My executive producer, Paul Hamann, who is also the chairman of anti-death penalty charity Reprieve, was passionate about the project.

But if we asked the Iranian authorities openly for a visa to investigate such a story, we would have been laughed out of the embassy.

After very careful consideration, we decided we should travel to Iran undercover, posing as tourists.

I’d filmed in Iran this way once before, in 2003, but it’s a horrible way of working. From the moment you arrive in the country, you are breaking the law.

The Foreign Office regards it as reckless and tells you firmly not to do it. If you get caught, you may be accused by the Iranian authorities not just of being a journalist there without permission but of spying.

But any risks I’d be taking would be dwarfed by those taken by the Iranian members of the team. If they were caught working with a British undercover journalist, the consequences would be severe.

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