Focus on the execution of children in Iran.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989 states in Article 37 that :
No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age. 

Iran is a signatory to this Convention and yet is frequently in breach of it through the execution of children, defined in the convention as persons under 18 years of age at the time they committed the crime.  Executions of children have been carried out in Iran for murder, drug offences, armed robbery and for sodomy.  Whether the sodomy executions were for homosexual rape as the authorities allege or simply for consensual homosexual acts is unclear.  It is certainly claimed by some groups that Iran follows a policy of executing gays. (see later)

All executions by hanging in Iran use either the short drop or simple suspension methods and some are still carried out in public.  Looking at the wording of the convention above it is clear that not only is capital punishment in itself banned but the so is the use of an execution method that is deliberately cruel and is guaranteed to cause severe pain to the executed person as they will typically be strangled to death. Under Iranian law the age of criminal responsibility is 15 for a male and just nine for a female.  It is unknown whether any girls as young as nine have been given the death penalty.

In some cases the execution of a child has been delayed until they reach 18 as a pretence of abiding by the convention, whilst ignoring the fact that they were much younger when sentenced to death.  In other cases their seems to be official obfuscation regarding the precise age of prisoners.  19 year old Gholam Reza Saeedi who was hanged in the central city of Isfahan on the 30th of October 2008 was probably 17 at the time of the crime. He was convicted of stabbing to death a fellow Afghan known as Shir Agha in 2006.  His age is also given as 18 in the official state run media.
News leaked out in January 2009 of the execution of Ahmad Zare'e in
Tehran’s Evin Prison on or about the 30th of December 2008.  He is thought to have been 17 when he murdered someone six years ago.  This hanging makes a total of eight juvenile executions in 2008.

On the 2nd of May 2009 Delara Darabi, aged 23, was hanged at Rasht Central Prison despite a two-month stay of execution in the case issued on the 19th of April 2009 by the head of the Judiciary and International protests.  She had been convicted of the murder of her father's female cousin, Mahin, during a robbery in September 2003, at the age of 17, although it is thought that her boyfriend, Amir Hossein Sotoudeh actually committed the crime and that she initially confessed to save him.  She later retracted this confession.  Sotoudeh got ten years in jail for his part in the crime.  In contravention of Iranian law neither her family or lawyer were informed until after the execution had been carried out.

On Sunday 11th of October 2009, 21-year-old Behnoud Shojai was hanged in Teheran's Evin prison having been convicted of stabbing to death 17-year-old Ehsan Nasrollahi during a fight in a Teheran park in August 2005 when he himself was aged 17.  Former Iran judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi had agreed in June last year to suspend Shojai's death sentence to give the victim's family a chance to pardon him under Islamic Sharia law.

Mosleh Zamani was hanged on Thursday the 17th of December 2009, in the western city of Kermanshah, together with four unnamed men. He had been convicted of raping his girlfriend in 2006, when he was 17. Zamani is thought to be the 5th juvenile executed in Iran this year.

Three young men, convicted of murdering a 15 years old boy on November the 30th, 2008 were publicly hanged in Bandar Abbas on the 21st of April 2011.  They were identified as "S. N." (18 years old), "A. N." (17 years old) and "H. B." (17 years old). It is not clear whether "S.N." was 17 or 18 at the time of the crime.

Although a very small number of other Islamic countries permit the death sentence to be passed on children, there are no recorded instances of these sentences being actually carried out in any other country in the last few years.  It is probable that most are commuted in the face of the international condemnation that follows from the execution of children.  It is thought that Iran has carried out 27 of the 33 recorded juvenile executions since 2004, or nearly 82% and has been responsible for all seven of those reported up to the end of October 2008.

Despite concerted campaigning at all levels on this issue the Iranian government has so only far conceded that it will cease executing children convicted of drug offences but will continue to permit the execution of those convicted of murder.  Assistant attorney general Hossein Zebhi announced in October 2008 that Iran's Attorney General and the head of the Supreme Court, who have to approve all death sentences, would commute the sentences of juvenile drug traffickers to a maximum of life imprisonment.  Persons convicted of murder in Iran, including children, are at the mercy of the victim’s family who are able to pardon them, accept blood money from them as compensation for the death of their loved one or demand their execution, under the doctrine of Qisas (retribution) enshrined in Sharia (Islamic) law.  "The policy of the judiciary is to postpone qisas verdicts in order to obtain a pardoning from the family," Zehbi said.  In some cases the family has pardoned the child murderer but the government has no legal right to force them to do so.  It may often be impossible for a poor family of a convicted child to raise the blood money demanded by relatives.  This is thought to average about 55,000 dollars for a man and 25,000 dollars for a woman, but can be much higher.

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also criticised Iran for continuing to execute children.  It is thought that there are around 130 children under sentence of death in the country as at October 31 2008.

Why should persons under 18 be spared from the consequences of their actions?  It is widely held that the brains of teenagers are not fully developed before 18 and that they often have less self control over their actions than adults.  The case of 15 year old Mostafa Naqdi perfectly illustrates this point.  Mostafa was riding his motorbike when he stopped outside a school in Tehran.  As the kids came out of school for the day one of them grabbed the key from the ignition which led to a fight as Mostafa sought to retrieve it.  Unfortunately the other lad, Masoud, died as a result of Mostafa puncturing his lung as he lunged at him with some sort of makeshift weapon (not a knife).  In Britain it is probable that Mostafa would have been convicted of manslaughter on the grounds that there was no intent to kill and no premeditation.  However he was convicted of murder and remains under sentence of death by hanging.  His mother, Shahnaz, has used up all her available funds in trying to defend her son.  Mostafa’s lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaie, has another 24 similar cases on his desk.  He said that none of his 25 clients had any intention to commit murder. In an interview he said that these children have “No criminality' "They have done the crimes unintentionally." "I have talked to all of these people face to face. They talk to me about their childhood and they talk about what happened to them in their childhood. "When you talk to them, there is no hint of criminality in their face and in their thoughts.  "They can't conceive of the fact that they might be hanged. They are pitiful. Most of the people who are killed by these people were bigger than them, and stronger. They killed them because they were scared."  Mr Mostafaie claims that many of the children do not have access to lawyers when they are arrested and charged and may be tricked into confessing or making statements that are later used against them.

The most scandalous and disgraceful instance of a child being executed occurred on Sunday, August the 15th, 2004, when a 16 year old girl named Atefeh Rajabi was hanged in public in the town of Neka.  Atefeh was executed for “engaging in acts incompatible with chastity.”
She was not represented by a lawyer at her trial and efforts by her family to recruit a lawyer was to no avail. She had to defend herself and told the religious judge, Haji Rezaie, that he should punish the main perpetrators of moral corruption and not the victims.  She further enraged the him by removing some of her clothing (probably just her headscarf) and he accused her of having a “sharp tongue.”  It is claimed that he pursued her execution beyond all normal procedures and finally gained the approval of the Supreme Court and the chief of the nation’s “judiciary branch.” Her age was given in official court documents as 22 but her birth certificate has been viewed by reliable sources and shows she really was just 16.  At the place of execution in the town’s square, the judge personally put the rope around the girl’s neck and gave the signal to the crane operator to begin her hanging.
Witnesses reported that she begged for mercy and had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the execution truck. She repeatedly shouted, "repentance" which, according to Islamic law, is supposed to grant the accused the right to an immediate stay of execution while an appeal is heard.
Judge Haji Rezaie said he was pleased to hang her and is quoted as saying, "Society has to be kept safe from acts against public morality." Her body was left dangling from the crane for some time so people could see what happened to teenagers who committed acts incompatible with chastity.
It should be noted that, according to the Islamic Republic’s penal code, the presence of an attorney for the defense is mandatory regardless of the defendant’s ability to afford one.  Nevertheless, Atefeh did not get an attorney, despite the efforts of her father to raise money for one.  Atefeh’s boyfriend, who had been arrested as well, received 100 lashes and was afterwards released. 

So what was Atefeh’s “crime”? It would seem that it amounted to having sex with her boyfriend.  According to judicial records, Atefeh had five previous convictions for having sex with unmarried men. For each offence, she had been jailed and flogged.  She confided in her friends that she had been abused by the guards in prison. A lawsuit is being brought by Shadi Sadr, a lawyer representing the Rajabi family, against the judiciary for wrongful execution.  Sadr is also trying to bring a murder charge against the judge, Haji Rezaie.  It is doubtful that these efforts will succeed. 

A very controversial public hanging was carried out in Mashad in northeast Iran, on July 19 2005.  Two boys, Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari, were bought into the Edalat (Justice) Square and were blindfolded by their ski mask wearing guards before being hoisted into the air by a hydraulic crane jib.  They were hanged for sodomy allegedly committed against a 13 year old boy, according to the judiciary but other sources claimed they were only guilty of consensual homosexual sex with the younger boy and with each other.  It is believed that both boys were under 18 although their precise ages cannot be verified.  Additionally both lads were given 228 lashes each for drinking, disturbing the peace and theft.

The lack of any transparency in this case, as in so many others, is disturbing.  Why does the Iranian government want to execute children in contravention of international conventions to which it is a signatory?  Why is their no reliable source of the age of these children and why does the state often claim very different ages from those claimed by the parents?  Is the execution of children either mandated by or justified by Sharia law?

If you are interested in helping campaign against the shameful practice of executing children please look at the Stop Child Executions website run by Nazanin Afshin-Jam at where you can find far more detail on individual cases and sign a petition against this barbaric practice.  She is also has a page on Facebook with the same title.

Back to Contents Page  Focus on the execution of women in Iran
Focus on the juvenile death penalty in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, and Yemen