Noting a surge in the number of juvenile offenders being executed in Iran, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has urged Iran “to abide by international law and immediately halt all executions of people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under eighteen.”
Already, during the first month of 2018, three people – two male and one female –have been executed for crimes they committed when they were 15 or 16 years old. This compares to the execution of a total of five juvenile offenders during the whole of 2017. A fourth juvenile offender, who was believed to be on the point of being executed on Wednesday 14 February, has reportedly received a temporary reprieve of two months. A number of other juvenile offenders are also believed to be in danger of imminent execution in Iran, with a total of some 80 such individuals reported to be currently on death row, after being sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were under eighteen.
“The execution of juvenile offenders is unequivocally prohibited under international law, regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime committed”, said Zeid. “The imposition of the death penalty on people who committed crimes when they were under 18 is in clear violation of Iran’s obligations under two international treaties that is has ratified and is obliged to uphold – namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
“I am sad to say that Iran violates this absolute prohibition under international human rights law far more often than any other State,” he said. “No other State comes even remotely close to the total number of juveniles who have been executed in Iran over the past couple of decades.”
The UN Human Rights Chief also noted that Iran ascribes criminal responsibility to girls as young as nine years old, whereas boys are not considered criminally responsible until they reach the age of 15. He described the discrepancy between the two genders as “wholly unjustifiable on every level,” and the application of the death penalty to any person, female or male, under 18 as “illegal and unacceptable.”
The three juvenile offenders subjected to the death penalty in January were:
- Mahboubeh Mofidi, who was 16 years old when, with the help of her brother-in-law, she allegedly killed her husband, who had married her when she was just 13 years old. She was 20 at the time of her execution on 30 January.
- 18-year-old Amir Hussein Pourjafar who allegedly raped and murdered a young Afghan girl when he was 16
- 22-year-old Ali Kazemi who was just 15 when he allegedly committed murder.
The UN Human Rights Office is particularly concerned about the fate of Abolfazl Chezani Sharahi, whose planned execution in Qom on 17 January was postponed for unknown reasons (he is believed to have been scheduled for execution at least four times in all for a crime allegedly committed when he was 15); and Hamid Hamadi, whose trial is widely considered to have been grossly unfair, is also believed to be at risk of execution at any moment for a crime allegedly committed when he was 17. He is believed to have been scheduled for execution at least five times.
Omid Rostami, whose scheduled execution along with 12 other people on 15 January in Karaj was postponed after the family of his alleged victim agreed to pardon him in exchange for diyah or ‘blood money,’ is still at risk if his family fails to raise the required funds within two months.
The High Commissioner noted that there had been some partial improvements in relation to other aspects of the application of the death penalty in Iran, most notably a bill amending the drug-trafficking law that was approved by the Guardian Council in October 2017. As a result of this amendment, some drug offences that were previously punishable by the death penalty are now subject to a prison term, although the mandatory death sentence is retained for a wide range of drug-related offences.
The amendment provides for retroactive applicability, which means that all people currently on death row for drug-related offences which are no longer punishable by the death penalty, should see their sentence commuted. The Deputy Head of the Justice Committee of the Parliament has stated that about 5,300 inmates were on death row for drug crimes, and the High Commissioner calls for the swift establishment of modalities for the review of all cases of individuals sentenced to death under the drug-trafficking law, and that the review should follow the principles of transparency, due process and ensure effective legal representation of all those sentenced to death.
Successive High Commissioners for Human Rights have urged Iran to stop all violations of international law relating to the death penalty, in particular the absolute prohibition of the application of the death penalty for juvenile offenders, and impose a moratorium on all executions with a view to ending the use of the death penalty altogether.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Iran is nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys, and the amended Islamic Penal Code retains the death penalty for boys and girls who have attained these ages.
* Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx