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RIGHTS: Iran Condemned for Ongoing Juvenile Executions

Omid Memarian

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2008 (IPS) - A week after the execution of two juvenile offenders in Iran, who were under 18 at the time of their crime, a coalition of human rights organisations is urging the Iranian parliament to move swiftly to ban such executions.

Iran has executed 191 people in 2008, including four juveniles. Credit: ISNA

Iran has executed 191 people in 2008, including four juveniles. Credit: ISNA

The groups include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, along with six other international and regional human rights organisations – Iran Human Rights; the Iranian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDDHI); Penal Reform International; Stop Child Executions; and Viviere – strongly condemned Iran’s continuing execution of juvenile offenders in a joint statement Tuesday.

“Iran is executing several children every year, despite the fact that it is banned under international law,” the organisations said. “It is cruel and inhumane to apply the death penalty even to adults, let alone to those convicted for crimes committed before the age of 18.”

“The execution of juvenile offenders is subject to an absolute prohibition in international law. This is testimony to the world’s repugnance towards this practice,” Drewery Dyke, a researcher with Amnesty International in London, told IPS. “It is high time that Iranian judicial officials and other leaders heed the concerns of the many jurists, lawyers and human rights activists in Iran who repeatedly call on the authorities to end the practice of executing juveniles and find a way to having Iran uphold its international legal commitments.”

Iranian authorities executed Hassan Mozafari and Rahman Shahidi on Jul. 22, along with an adult offender, Hussein Rahnama, in the southern city of Bushehr. The Bushehr Criminal Court had convicted them of rape, together with another juvenile offender, Mohammad Pezhman, and two other adults, Behrouz Zangeneh and Ali Khorramnejad. Iranian authorities executed Pezhman in May 2007 and the two other adults in October 2007.

“Mozafari and Shahidi’s executions are extremely disturbing,” Clarisa Bencomo, Middle East and North Africa researcher in the Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“The fact that the families of murder victims pardoned two other juvenile offenders just days before these latest executions only underlines how arbitrary the Iranian justice system is,” she added. “Iranian authorities should stop making excuses and change their laws to ensure that no one is ever executed for a crime committed when under 18.”

In 2007, Iran carried out at least eight such executions. The recent hangings of Mozafari and Shahidi bring the number of juvenile executions to four so far in 2008. No other country is known to have executed a juvenile offender in 2008.

“Iran’s continued execution of child offenders is very worrisome as it shows a determined will to ignore international law and Iran’s obligations,” Hadi Ghaemi, coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, told IPS in a telephone interview. “At the same time, large-scale hangings, such as those of 29 men inside Evin prison on Jul. 27, sends the message of a bloodthirsty judiciary that wants to intimidate the general public with its propensity to rely on extreme violence.”

Human rights advocates say that the situation of juvenile offenders facing execution in Iran has reached crisis levels, making Tehran’s violation of international standards much greater than any other country. There are at least 132 juvenile offenders known to be on death row in Iran, although the true number could be much higher.

Following intense international protests, two juvenile offenders facing execution for murder, Sa’eed Jazee and Reza Sheshblooki, were spared the death penalty last week after receiving pardons from the families of their victims.

“It is outrageous that even the names of all of the executed men have not been made public, let alone their crimes and the evidence against them,” Ghaemi stated. “Iran is certainly trying to demonstrate that it is in control of the domestic situation as it engages in sensitive negotiations over the nuclear issue. Except that by doing it so violently, they are actually demonstrating their keen sense of insecurity.”

On Jul. 8, 24 major international and regional organisations called on the Iranian authorities to immediately stop juvenile executions. In December 2007, the U.N. General Assembly expressed concern about the “execution of persons who were under the age of 18 at the time their offence was committed contrary to the obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran under article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

“We’ve seen far too many cases marked by serious violations of Iranian and international law that have ended in the juvenile offender’s execution,” said Bencomo.

“There is no justice in a system where lower court judges can repeatedly violate procedure without being properly disciplined and appeals courts rubber stamp bad rulings,” she added. “If Iran wants the world to recognise it as a leader it needs act like one, and that means ending all executions of juvenile offenders and committing to serious judicial reforms.”

On Jul. 27, Iranian authorities hanged 29 adults inside Evin prison in Tehran. The authorities said the executed men had been convicted of drug smuggling and murder, but provided the names of only 10 of them and did not release the evidence against them or details of their prosecution, according to the joint statement by human rights groups.

“With its practice of executing juvenile offenders, Iran has the unenviable reputation of being the world’s last executioner of children,” said Dyke. “We find that this is not what Iranians want and in no way builds a stronger human rights culture for tomorrow’s Iran.”

Ghaemi said that the executions evoke a climate of extreme repression. “Let’s remember that this summer is the twentieth anniversary of the mass executions of more than 4,000 political prisoners inside Iranian jails in 1988, just as Iran had agreed to the U.N. resolution ending the Iran-Iraq war,” he said. “Increased numbers of executions is a sign of policies from that era to keep any restive elements in check.”

Iran leads the world in executing persons for crimes committed under the age of 18. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran is obligated to abolish such executions.

Last December, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on states to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, but Iran continues to ignore this global trend towards abolition. Iran has executed 191 people already in 2008, making it likely to maintain its position as carrying out more executions than any country in the world but China, although its population is 18 times smaller than China’s.

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