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Iran: authorities set to execute man deemed 'mature' at 17

Arman Abdolali, now 25, judged ‘mentally mature’ partly on the basis that the body of his alleged victim was never found

Courts ignored claims he was tortured into ‘confessing’ after months of solitary confinement 

‘Time is rapidly running out’ - Diana Eltahawy

The Iranian authorities must immediately halt the planned execution of a young man who was sentenced to death for a crime that took place when he was a child, following a grossly unfair trial marred by torture-tainted “confessions”, Amnesty International said today.

Arman Abdolali, now 25, has been moved to solitary confinement in Raja’i Shahr prison in the city of Karaj north-west of Tehran in preparation for his execution later this week (13 October). 

His execution was scheduled twice before - in January 2020 and in July 2021 - but was halted on both occasions after an international outcry. 

Abdolali was sentenced to death in December 2015 after being convicted of murder of his girlfriend in a grossly unfair trial in which the court relied on torture-tainted “confessions”. The girlfriend’s body was never found, a fact the court said indicated that Abdolali had carried out the crime without leaving a trace thus showing “mental maturity”, a crucial determination used to sentence him to death.

In reaching its decision, the court partly relied on the opinion of a Children and Adolescent Court Advisor who said that Abdolali understood the “abhorrent” nature of the crime. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in July 2016. 

The international legal prohibition on sentencing to death those who were children when they allegedly committed crimes is an absolute one, meaning claims of “maturity” should have no bearing on the matter. 

In February 2020, Iran’s Supreme Court granted Abdolali a retrial after the Children and Adolescent Court Advisor withdrew her initial opinion, saying it had been issued without meeting him in person or studying the casefile. Abdolali’s retrial, at Branch 5 of Criminal Court One of Tehran Province, largely focused on whether there were doubts about his “maturity” at the time of the crime. In September 2020, the court ruled it was not possible to determine Abdolali’s “maturity” so long after the crime and ruled that in the absence of evidence to the contrary his criminal responsibility stands. 

The trial and appeal verdicts both noted Abdolali’s allegations that he was held in solitary confinement for 76 days and repeatedly beaten to “confess”, but no investigation was ordered and the “confessions” were described by the court as “unequivocal”. 

Given these deeply flawed proceedings, Amnesty is calling on the Iranian authorities to quash Abdolali’s conviction and grant him a retrial in line with fair trial standards generally and those pertaining to children in particular.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: 

“Time is rapidly running out - the Iranian authorities must immediately halt all plans to execute Arman Abdolali on 13 October.

“Use of the death penalty against people who were under 18 at the time the crime was committed is prohibited under international law and constitutes an abhorrent assault on child rights. 

“Global action helped to stop Arman Abdolali’s previously scheduled executions - we now urge the international community, including the UN and EU, to urgently intervene to save his life.”

‘Full maturity’

Under Iranian law, in cases of murder and certain other capital crimes, boys aged above 15 lunar years and girls aged above nine lunar years are treated as adults and can be sentenced to death. However, Article 91 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code grants judges discretion to replace the death penalty with an alternative sentence if they believe there are doubts about the individual’s “full maturity” at the time of the crime. In practice, there is no clarity over the evidence and the standards of proof needed to demonstrate “full maturity”. 

Iran continues to use the death penalty for crimes committed by people under the age of 18 in violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Last year, the authorities executed at least three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offence. Earlier this year, they executed Sajad Sanjari, a young man who was 15 at the time of the offence. Scores of people similarly convicted of crimes committed when they were children remain on death row in Iran. In 2020, Iran carried out at least 246 executions - making it the second-largest user of capital punishment worldwide.

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