Iranian Criminal Court Sentenced Juvenile Offender to Death on Education Minister and MP’s Recommendation
Case Highlights Violations of Domestic and International Law and Judiciary’s Lack of Independence
February 27, 2018–A young man who was incarcerated at 15 years of age was sentenced to death in Iran upon turning 18—despite the provincial state medical examiner’s report that Mohammad Kalhori was not mentally mature when he allegedly committed murder.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) has also learned that the Supreme Court threw out Kalhori’s initial three-year prison sentence and ordered a new trial resulting in a death sentence after a deputy education minister and an influential member of Iran’s Parliament asked the court to “look after” the victim’s family.
“The case of Mohammad Kalhori is extremely concerning because Iran has yet again issued a death sentence to a person who was convicted as a juvenile in violation of international and UN standards,” said Hadi Ghaemi, CHRI’s executive director, “It also highlights the Iranian Judiciary’s lack of independence.”
According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is illegal to execute someone for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. Iran is party to both treaties but remains one among a handful of countries still putting juveniles to death.
According to Article 91 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, “If mature people under 18-years-old do not realize the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if there is uncertainty about their full mental development, according to their age” they can be spared the death penalty.
In September 2016, Branch 2 of the Criminal Court in Lorestan sentenced Kalhori, who was born in March 1998, to death for murdering his teacher in November 2014. In April 2016, the medical examiner of Lorestan Province determined Kalhori was not mentally mature when the crime was committed.
“My client was 15 when the murder happened,” Kalhori’s attorney, Hassan Aghakhani, told CHRI on February 22, 2018.
“According to the medical examiner’s opinion, his action was not based on reason or logic and he was lacking mental development,” he added. “His adviser in the juvenile reform center also says that he didn’t have the mental ability to understand his action.”
The attorney added: “Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code should be applied to him but unfortunately, the court has not paid attention to this matter.”
Interference with the Judicial Process
Aghaghani told CHRI that his attempts to reverse the death sentence had been unsuccessful because a deputy education minister and an influential member of Iran’s Parliament had asked the court to “look after” the victim’s family.
“We lodged an appeal and made two requests [in June and October 2017] for a judicial review by Branch 33 of the Supreme Court presided by Judge Mohammad Niazi,” Aghaghani said. “But [Judge Niazi] believes in retribution. When it was time to consider the appeal, unfortunately there was a letter from a deputy education minister and two letters from Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who is the member of Parliament from Boroujerd [city] and chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy, requesting that the judge to look after the victim, not the murderer.”
Aghakhani continued: “When it was determined that my client did not have sufficient metal development, we did not expect the political and security officials to get involved. This kid could have been saved if the law followed a normal course, without the court being influenced by the political climate, but unfortunately they interfered in this case.”
Kalhori killed his physics teacher, Mohammad Khashkhashi, with a pocket knife after allegedly being physically attacked for alleged disobedience on November 22, 2014, at the Hafezi High School in Boroujerd, Lorestan Province.
“At the preliminary stage [March 2016], Branch 1 of the Criminal Court in Lorestan Province sentenced my client to three years in prison and ordered him to pay blood money to the victim’s parents,” Aghakhani told CHRI.
“But the victim’s family appealed the decision [in September 2016] and Branch 31 of the Supreme Court struck down the ruling and ordered a new trial, which resulted in a death sentence against my client without regard to Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code,” he added.
According to Islamic law, Diyah, known as “blood money” in English, is paid as financial compensation to the victim or heirs of a victim in cases of murder, bodily harm, or property damage.
Kalhori has been held at a juvenile rehabilitation center in Lorestan Province since November 2014.
Iran is one of the few countries in the world where juvenile offenders continue to be executed.
In February 2018, the UN rights chief urged Iran to halt executions of juveniles on death row.
“The execution of juvenile offenders is unequivocally prohibited under international law, regardless of the circumstances and nature of the crime committed,” the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a news release on February 16.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in January 2018, three people – two male and one female – were executed in Iran for crimes they committed when they were 15 or 16 years old. A fourth juvenile offender, who was believed to be on the point of being executed on February 14, has reportedly received a temporary reprieve of two months.
The UN rights chief also noted that several other juvenile offenders are also believed to be in danger of imminent execution, with a total of some 80 such individuals reported to be currently on death row in Iran, after being sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were under eighteen.
“Iran should immediately comply with explicit international norms and standards regarding the rights of children and halt the death sentence against Mohammad Kalhori and all juvenile defendants,” said Ghaemi.
*This article was updated on March 1, 2018, to reflect that the correct spelling of Mohammad’s name is Kalhori, not Kalhor.