Children as young as nine are facing the death penalty in Iran, a damning new report reveals.
Dozens of juvenile offenders are currently sitting on death row, despite Iran’s claims to have “reformed” the way it deals with alleged capital crimes by under-18s, Amnesty International says.
Amnesty's latest report details the names and locations of 49 juvenile offenders currently facing execution.
UN figures indicate that at least 160 may be on death row, although Amnesty believes the number is likely to be much higher.
International law prohibits executing those convicted of crimes that took place when the defendant was under the age of 18. Yet Amnesty's report shows that Iran has put to death 73 juvenile offenders between 2005 and 2015.
Said Boumedouha, Amnesty's Middle East Deputy Director, said: “The report sheds light on Iran’s shameful disregard for the rights of children.
“Iran is one of the few countries that continues to execute juvenile offenders in blatant violation of the absolute legal prohibition on the use of the death penalty against people under the age of 18 years at the time of the crime.
“The report paints a deeply distressing picture of juvenile offenders languishing on death row, robbed of valuable years of their lives - often after being sentenced to death following unfair trials, including those based on forced confessions extracted through torture and other ill-treatment.”
Amnesty’s report shows that young people condemned to death in Iran spend an average of seven years on death row before being taken out of their cells to be hanged, though in some cases juvenile offenders have spent more than a decade on death row.
In many cases the authorities have scheduled the executions of juvenile offenders and postponed them at the last minute - a tactic which Amnesty “cruel, inhuman and degrading”.
After continued criticism of its record on executing juvenile offenders, the Iranian authorities made changes to the country’s 2013 Islamic Penal Code allowing judges to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment based on a discretionary assessment of a juvenile offender’s mental growth and maturity at the time of the crime.
In 2014, Iran’s Supreme Court also said that all juvenile offenders on death row could apply for retrial.
But Amnesty said that in practice this has had little impact.
In October last year, Fatemeh Salbehi was hanged for the murder of her husband whom she was forced to marry at 16 and from whom she had reportedly suffered domestic abuse.
She was 17 at the time of the killing. She was re-sentenced to death after a retrial session lasting only a few hours in which the psychological assessment was limited to a few basic questions such as whether or not she prayed or studied religious textbooks.
Meanwhile, in five other cases - Hamid Ahmadi, Amir Amrollahi, Siavash Mahmoudi, Sajad Sanjari and Salar Shadizadi – juvenile offenders were re-sentenced to death after courts presiding over their retrials concluded that they understood the nature of the crime and were not insane.
In some cases juvenile offenders have not even been informed of their right to apply for a retrial.
Boumedouha said: “Despite some juvenile justice reforms, Iran continues to lag behind the rest of the world, maintaining laws that permit girls as young as nine and boys as young as 15 to be sentenced to death.
“Instead of introducing half-hearted reforms that fall woefully short, Iran’s authorities must accept that what they really need to do is commute the death sentences of all juvenile offenders, and end the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in Iran once and for all.”
Last year there was a rise in the use of the death penalty in Iran, with at least 830 people executed between January 1 and November 1, 2015.
There were reports that at least four of these were juvenile offenders.
Meanwhile, in 2014 Iran is believed to have carried out the highest number of executions anywhere in the world except for China.