Iran: Execution of two juvenile offenders in just a few days 'sickening'
Reports have emerged of a second execution of a juvenile offender in Iran in just a few days, Amnesty International said today.
Fatemeh Salbehi, a 23-year-old woman, was executed yesterday for a crime she allegedly committed when she was 17, only a week after another juvenile offender, Samad Zahabi, was hanged for a crime he also allegedly committed at 17.
Fatemeh Salbehi was hanged in Shiraz prison, Fars Province, despite Iran being bound by an absolute international legal ban on juvenile executions. She was sentenced to death in May 2010 for the murder of her 30-year-old husband, Hamed Sadeghi, whom she had been forced to marry at the age of 16.
There were severe flaws in her trial and appeal. An expert opinion from the State Medicine Organisation provided at the trial found Faremeh Salbehi had severe depression and suicidal thoughts around the time of her husband’s death. However, the death sentence was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court later that year.
Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty’s Middle East Programme, said:
“The use of the death penalty is cruel, and inhumane and degrading in any circumstances, but it is utterly sickening when meted out as a punishment for a crime committed by a person who was under 18 years of age, and after legal proceedings that make a mockery of juvenile justice.
“With this execution the Iranian judiciary has yet again put on display its brazen contempt for the human rights of children, including their right to life. There are simply no words to condemn Iran’s continued use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders.
“The Iranian authorities should be under no illusion that they can avoid international scrutiny until they introduce a new law banning the use of the death penalty on any offender under 18 years of age.”
The adoption of a new Islamic Penal Code in May 2013 sparked hopes that Fatemeh Salbehi and other juvenile offenders on death row may have their death sentences quashed and their cases re-examined. Article 91 of the Code allows judges to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment if they determine that the juvenile offender did not comprehend the nature of the crime or its consequences or his or her “mental growth and maturity” are in doubt.
The re-examination hearing that Fatemeh Salbehi was granted in relation to Article 91 proved to be deeply flawed. It lasted only three hours and focused mostly on whether she prayed, studied religious textbooks at school and understood that killing another human being was “religiously forbidden.”
On this basis, the Provincial Criminal Court of Fars Province had ruled in May last year that she had the maturity of an adult and therefore deserved the death sentence. In reaching this outrageous conclusion the judges failed to seek expert opinion, even though they lacked adequate knowledge and expertise on issues of child psychology.
This underlines the importance of the clear provision in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which is binding on Iran, that no death sentences may be imposed for offences committed by individuals under the age of 18.
In another appalling case eight days ago, juvenile offender Samad Zahabi was secretly hanged in Kermanshah’s Dizel Abad Prison in Kermanshah province for shooting a fellow shepherd during a row over who should graze their sheep.
As with the case of Fatemeh Salebhi, the execution was carried out without a 48 hour notice period being given to his lawyer, as is required by law. Horrifically, his family said they only learned of his fate after his mother visited the prison.
Samad Zahabi had been sentenced to death by the Provincial Criminal Court of Kermanshah Province in March 2013, even though he had said both during the investigations and at the trial that the shooting was unintentional and in self-defence, and resulted from a fight that he was drawn into against his will.
Branch six of the Supreme Court upheld his death sentence in February 2014, despite a written submission from the Office of the Prosecution that had asked for it to be quashed in light of the provisions of the 2013 revised Penal Code.
In December 2014, the general board of Iran’s Supreme Court issued a pilot judgement which entitled all juvenile offenders to seek judicial review of their cases based on Article 91 of the Penal Code. Samad Zahabi was never however informed of this legal development which may have spared his life.
Iran is scheduled to be reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in January 2016. The Committee of the Right of the Child oversees the implementation of the CRC, which Iran ratified in July 1994. As a state party to the CRC, Iran has pledged to ensure that all persons under 18 years of age are treated as children and never subjected to the same punishments as adults. However, the age of adult criminal responsibility remains nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys.
Between 2005 and 2015, Amnesty has received reports of least 75 executions of juvenile offenders, including at least three juvenile offenders in 2015. More than 160 juvenile offenders are believed to be currently on death row in prisons across the country.