A 55-year-old man from the port city of Bandar Abbas in southern Iran spent 18 harrowing years on death row, with his life constantly hanging by a thread.
Sentenced to death by a local court in 2003 on charges of "premeditated murder" of an acquaintance, Akbar's life was reduced to a constant wait — to face the gallows.
The agonizing wait took a heavy toll on his mind and body inside prison. What kept him going, though, was a small flicker of hope — pardon from the victim's family.
Last week, like any other day, as the inmate was sitting quietly in his prison cell, the prison staff broke news to him. He had been pardoned by the victim's parents.
The longstanding, painful wait ended on a bittersweet note. Akbar was relieved that he no longer had to face the gallows that he feared the most.
But the magnitude of relief and happiness was so enormous and so overwhelming that he suffered a heart stroke and was swiftly moved to the prison hospital.
Hours later, the 55-year-old man breathed his last, without experiencing his free days.
Anadolu Agency learnt from sources that Akbar was arrested from his hometown in Bandar Abbas on the southern coast of Iran in 2003, for what the police charge sheet described as "premeditated murder".
His three other accomplices were also arrested in the same case. After a lengthy trial, Akbar and another accomplice, Davood, were given death sentences for being the "masterminds", while two other accused were given life terms.
Lawyers for the two accused men claimed that they had committed the murder "in defense of their honor", mostly invoked when women face physical attack or harassment. The court rejected the argument, according to people aware of the case.
Under Iran's Shariah law, death sentence is given for murder, which implies retribution, unless the victim's close family or parents pardon the perpetrator.
Since two people had to face execution for one person's murder in this case, the victim's family was required to pay "blood money" for one of them, as per the Iranian law.
Davood was the first to be executed some time ago, following the apex court's approval, which turned Akbar's bleak hopes of survival even bleaker.
The victim's ageing parents, hailing from the central Isfahan province, were adamant not to forgive their son's killers. They were approached multiple times by Akbar's family as well as prison officials in Bandar Abbas, but they almost always stood their ground, according to those aware of the case.
However, since they were not able to arrange the blood money, which was required to carry out the sentence, Akbar's execution was delayed.
Relief of death
As countdown to his execution began, Akbar's health condition also deteriorated, which prompted prison officials tasked with dispute resolution in such cases to approach the victim's family again.
A team traveled all the way from Bandar Abbas to Isfahan recently, covering a distance of almost 1000 km, to meet the victim's family and make a fresh plea for Akbar's clemency.
The 55-year-old, arrested at the age of 37, had spent better part of his youth behind the bars, waiting for a miracle. During this time, he had developed many health issues.
When the victim's family learnt about the inmate's present condition and years of ordeal inside the jail, they showed willingness to pardon their son's killer.
The victim's family was then asked to sign the consent paper to formally give their nod to Akbar's freedom after 18 years.
When the inmate was informed about his freedom by the prison staff, he was shell-shocked.
In the same shocked state, he suffered a cardiac stroke and was transferred to a hospital, where doctors deemed his condition critical, according to people aware of the case.
A few hours later, Akbar's 18-year-old plight ended, not in the freedom of life, but in the permanent silence and relief of death.