Iranian Authorities Cut Off Hand of Thief

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian authorities have amputated the hand of a convicted thief in front of other prisoners, state radio reported Sunday, in a possible step toward restoring the punishment to common use and carrying it out in public.

Cutting off the hands of thieves -- allowed for by the Iranian judiciary's strict reading of Islamic law -- has been rare in Iran in recent years, but the amputation reported Sunday was the second this month. And a week ago, a judge ordered the same punishment for a man who stole from a candy shop, though there has been no public word on whether that sentence has been carried out.

Sunday's report said the 32-year-old convict, whose hand was cut off at a prison in the central city of Yazd, had committed four robberies and other crimes. It did not elaborate or identify the prisoner by name. Yazd is 400 miles, or 670 kilometers, southeast of the capital, Tehran.

There were no details on how the punishment was carried out. There have been conflicting reports in the past, with some saying amputations were done in the early 1980s without any medical procedures. Other reports said they were carried out in the presence of a doctor. A recent news report said they would now be carried out with the prisoner receiving anesthesia.

An audience of fellow inmates was assembled to witness the amputation, which could be a sign that such punishments will be done before the public in the future.

The punishment has been part of Iran's penal code since 1980, a year after the country's clerical leaders came to power in the revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah.

The reporting of the punishment on state-run radio indicated it had approval from senior Iranian leaders, though there has been no official government comment about any push to resume more frequent implementation of the punishment.

Critics say amputations and public executions and floggings hurt Iran's image and reflect badly on Islam.