Directive to Abolish Juvenile Death Penalty Issued
(17 October 2008) A high-ranking Iranian Judiciary official announced the issuance of a directive to judges that execution sentences for juvenile offenders must be replaced by life imprisonment sentences with the possibility of parole.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran welcomed the announcement by the Iranian Judiciary and called for an immediate halt to all pending executions of juvenile offenders.
“This decision is long overdue given that Iran leads the world in executing juvenile offenders, and it is a significant step towards honoring international law. We are extremely happy for the families of nearly 130 juveniles on death row and hope that this directive will put an immediate end to any more executions of juvenile offenders,” Hadi Ghaemi, the coordinator of the Campaign said.On 15 October 2008, Hussein Zebhi, judicial deputy of the Prosecutor General, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official state media outlet, that execution sentences for juvenile offenders will be commuted to prison terms.
“According to this directive, punishments for offenders under the age of 18 [in capital offence cases], will be reduced to life in prison in the first stage and in the second stage [of parole] will be reduced to 15 years in prison. In addition, in cases of good behavior and signs of rehabilitation, juvenile offenders may qualify for conditional release under Islamic compassion guidelines,” he told IRNA.
Iranian officials have previously made a distinction between executions for capital offenses and executions for murder under the law of qisas (“an eye for an eye”), claiming qisas sentences cannot be reduced by judges. While Zebhi did not explicitly address this issue, he told IRNA that “offenders under the age of 18, no matter what their offence is, will not be subject to executions but will receive other punishments according to the law.” [emphasis added]
The Campaign called on the Iranian Judiciary to publicly release the entire text of the directive and clearly state that there will be no exceptions for cases of qisas.
The Campaign noted that the directive by the Judiciary still falls short of a legally binding commitment and must be enshrined in Iranian law and be approved by the parliament. In 2005, the Judiciary also issued a directive to stop executions of offenders under the age of 18. It was largely ignored by judges and its only impact was that the implementation of executions was postponed in some cases until the offender reached the age of 18. In 2003, the Judiciary issued a directive banning stoning sentences, but local judges have continued to issue and even implement such sentences.
“The next and urgently needed step is for the parliament to act on this issue and abolish the death penalty for children through legislation,” Ghaemi said.
Iran has signed and ratified international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which put in place an absolute prohibition of the death penalty for offenders under the age of 18, but has attracted widespread condemnation for executing juveniles despite the prohibition.
Four other countries – Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, and Sudan—continue to implement this abhorrent practice.
Iran is by far the leading executioner of juvenile offenders, having executed six juvenile offenders already in 2008, and has been responsible for more than 80 percent of such executions in the past 3 ½ years. There are currently at least 130 juvenile offenders on death row in Iran.
While Hussein Zebhi , deputy of the Prosecutor General, claimed that, “In the Islamic Republic of Iran, we do not have executions of persons under the age of 18,” Iran executed 16-year-old Mohammad Hassanzadeh, an Iranian Kurd, on 10 June 2008. The latest juvenile execution took place on 26 August 2008, when the authorities hung Behnam Zare in Shiraz for a crime he committed at age 15.
“This directive, if properly implemented, is a very significant step for the rights of children in Iran,” Ghaemi said.
The Campaign recognizes the valiant efforts of the Iranian human rights community over the years to persuade their government to abolish juvenile executions and respect its international obligations.
Iranian activists, including Shirin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, and other prominent human rights defenders such as Emad Baghi and Nasrin Setoodeh, have worked tirelessly to abolish the death penalty for juvenile offenders in Iran. On International Children’s Day, 7 October, several children and women’s rights organizations called for the abolition of the juvenile death penalty in Iran.
The Campaign called on the Iranian Judiciary to immediately start the process of commuting death sentences for juveniles on death row in a transparent and proper manner. The Campaign believes many juvenile offenders did not receive a just trial in the first place, and they may not even be guilty of crimes for which they have been charged and convicted.