Iran: The last executioner of children

January 1, 2011

Iran: The last executioner of children

Nasser Seraj, Deputy State Public Prosecutor for Security Issues, May 200741

The Iranian government denies that it executes child offenders. The facts tell a different story. Amnesty International has recorded 24 executions of child offenders in Iran since 1990, 11 of whom were under 18 when executed (see Appendix I). Eight of these executions are highlighted below.

Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh
Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh was hanged in public on 15 August 2004 in the centre of Neka, Mazandaran province. She was 16 years old at the time and had been sentenced to death for a fourth conviction of "crimes against chastity". The next day, E’temad newspaper, quoting a judiciary official, stated that Atefeh Sahaaleh was 22.

A women’s activist who went to Neka to investigate the case was shown by the family a copy of Atefeh Sahaaleh’s birth certificate and the death certificate issued by the authorities following the execution. The year of birth on both documents was 1988. These documents were also shown to the producers of a secretly filmed BBC documentary about her execution.42

Atefeh Sahaaleh was arrested several times as a child by a branch of the Revolutionary Guard responsible for public morality and order, during a raid on a café, during a raid on a party, and after she was found alone in a car with a boy. She received her first conviction for "crimes against chastity" when she was 13. On this occasion, she was sentenced to a short prison term and 100 lashes. According to the BBC documentary, she was allegedly abused by guards in Behshahr prison. Atefeh Sahaaleh was convicted of "crimes against chastity" on two subsequent occasions, and received further sentences of flogging and short terms in prison.

Shortly after her release after her third term in prison, Atefeh Sahaaleh was arrested by members of the morality police while at home alone. According to reports, the reason given for the arrest was a petition that accused Atefeh Sahaaleh of being a "source of immorality" and of having sexual relations with various men outside of marriage. The petition claimed to be from Neka residents, but only carried the signatures of local police officials.

Atefeh Sahaaleh was charged with "acts incompatible with chastity" and was tried by Judge Rezaie in a Revolutionary Court in the neighbouring town of Behshahr. She had a court-appointed lawyer.

During the trial, she was said to have been interrogated fiercely by Judge Rezaie and to have confessed to having had sexual intercourse with a man named Ali Darabi. According to reports, she had entered into an abusive relationship with the 51-year-old man three years earlier, at the age of 13, but had told no one.43

During the trial, Atefeh Sahaaleh is said to have lost her temper, shouted at the judge that she had been the victim of the older man, and thrown off her headscarf in protest. The judge reportedly reprimanded her and later said that she had "undressed in public".44 Atefeh Sahaaleh was convicted of "crimes against chastity" and was sentenced to execution by hanging because it was her fourth conviction on this charge. It is believed that the sentence was passed three months before her execution – in about May 2004. Ali Darabi was also sentenced to receive around 100 lashes.

According to investigations by Iranian human rights activists and journalists, Atefeh Sahaaleh suffered from mental illness and had been assessed as a suicide risk by a psychologist. Following the death sentence, a petition was signed by 43 Neka residents calling for the execution not to be carried out because "she suffers from severe psychological issues".45 In her own letter of defence, Atefeh Sahaaleh wrote: "There are medical records which show that I suffer from mental impairment, and during certain times of the day, of complete mental lapses. I would like Your Honour to listen to my request for freedom".46