Zeinab Sekaanvand was married at the age of 15
‘This is an extremely disturbing case’ - Philip Luther
The Iranian authorities must urgently halt the planned execution of Zeinab Sekaanvand, a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman arrested when she was 17 and convicted of the murder of her husband after a grossly unfair trial, Amnesty International said today.
She is due to be executed by hanging as soon as this Thursday (13 October). Amnesty has launched an “Urgent Action”
campaign on behalf of Sekaanvand, with its supporters sending urgent appeals on the case to the Iranian authorities.
Sekaanvand was 17 when she was arrested in February 2012 for the murder of her husband, whom she married at the age of 15. From an impoverished and culturally conservative family, Sekaanvand had run away from home to marry Hossein Sarmadi, who was some four years older than her. Sekaanvand says her husband turned out to be violent, beating her regularly and refusing to divorce her. After being held in a police station for 20 days after her arrest (where she says she was beaten by male police officers), she “confessed” that she had stabbed her husband after he’d subjected her to months of physical and verbal abuse and had repeatedly refused her requests for divorce.
Her subsequent trial was grossly unfair - she was denied access to a lawyer during her entire pre-trial detention period and only met her state-appointed lawyer for the first time at her final trial session on 18 October 2014. It was at this session that she retracted “confessions” made when she’d had no access to legal representation. Sekaanvand told the court that her husband’s brother, who she said had raped her several times, was responsible for the murder and had coerced her into “confessing”, promising he would pardon her (under Islamic law, murder victims’ relatives have the power to pardon the offender and accept financial compensation instead). This statement was ignored by the court, which instead relied heavily on her “confessions” to reach its verdict.
Subsequently, on 22 October 2014, Branch 2 of the Criminal Court of West Azerbaijan Province sentenced Sekaanvand to death as qesas (“retribution in kind”), later upheld by Branch 7 of the Supreme Court of Iran. However, the courts failed to apply juvenile sentencing guidelines from Iran’s Islamic penal code and order a forensic report to assess her “mental growth and maturity” at the time of the crime. Additionally, they failed to inform her that she could submit an “application for retrial” based on Article 91 of the penal code.
in 2015 Sekaanvand married a fellow prisoner in the Oroumieh Central Prison. After she became pregnant, she was told by the prison authorities that her execution would be delayed until after she had given birth. On 30 September her baby was still-born, with doctors saying it had died of shock two days earlier - the same day that a fellow prisoner of Sekaanvand’s was taken away to be executed. Since this traumatic episode, she has not been allowed any form of postnatal care.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther said:
“This is an extremely disturbing case. Not only was Zeinab Sekaanvand under 18 years of age at the time of the crime, she was also denied access to a lawyer and says she was tortured after her arrest by male police officers through beatings all over her body.
“Iran’s continued use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders displays the authorities’ contempt even for commitments they themselves have signed up to.
“The Iranian authorities must immediately quash Zeinab Sekaanvand’s conviction and grant her a fair retrial without recourse to the death penalty.”
Executions of juvenile offenders
Amnesty has recorded at least 74 executions of juvenile offenders in Iran between 2005 and 2016, while, according to the UN, at least 160 juvenile offenders are currently on death row in the country. Last year at least 977 people in total were executed in Iran (compared to 743 in 2014), the vast majority for drug-related crimes. At least four of those executed people last year were under 18 at the time of the crime for which they were convicted.
Iran ignoring its own legal obligations
Iran’s penal code falls woefully short of safeguards required for juvenile offenders under international human rights law, and even the limited safeguards that do exist - such as informing juvenile offenders of their right to apply for a retrial - are often (as here) not implemented by the authorities.
As a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Iran is legally obliged to treat everyone under the age of 18 as a child and ensure they’re never subject to the death penalty nor to life imprisonment without possibility of release. International law, including the children’s convention, absolutely prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes committed by under-18s. Meanwhile, under Iranian law, those convicted of murder and sentenced to qesas have no right to seek pardon or commutation of their death sentence, as is required by the ICCPR.
Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, and calls on the Iranian authorities to establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.