Despite, or perhaps in response to, the Iranian authorities’ record, a growing movement has emerged over recent years in Iran that is pushing for abolition of the death penalty for child offenders. This movement includes members of the government and judiciary. For instance, in around 2001, the judiciary introduced a draft law, initially entitled the Law on the Establishment of Children’s and Juveniles’ Court, that would prohibit the death sentence for minors.(10) An amended version of this law, entitled the Law on the Investigation of Juvenile Crimes, was reportedly debated by the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majles (Iran’s parliament) in mid-2006 and passed to a committee for further consideration. The committee reportedly passed the law back to the Majles in May 2007. Even though the law is far from perfect – for example, it excludes certain types of crime from the prohibition of the death penalty for child offenders – it reflects an ongoing internal debate and opens up the possibility of reform.
The momentum for change within Iran is being driven primarily by a courageous movement of human rights defenders and activists, including lawyers, journalists and children’s rights activists. These people have represented those facing the death penalty and prevented executions. They have highlighted miscarriages of justice. They have campaigned for abolition of the laws that allow executions of child offenders.
Many of these activists have been threatened, summoned for interrogation or harassed by the authorities in other ways. Some have been subjected to travel bans, preventing them from leaving the country. Attempts to gain permits to hold events and rallies against the death penalty have been blocked. Nonetheless, the activists have refused to be deterred.
Amnesty International has faced many obstacles when trying to investigate the death penalty in Iran. It has not been granted access to the country to assess human rights developments at first hand since shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Moreover, detailed and accurate information about the number of people under sentence of death in Iran is not readily available.(11) Death penalty cases are rarely reported in the press until the sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court, a requirement before execution can take place. Sometimes, the first that is known about a case is when the execution is reported. Even when earlier information is known, it is often impossible to find out whether there have been any developments in the case and its progress.
Iran: main child executioner worldwide
Only three other countries have executed child offenders in the past three years, according to information received by Amnesty International. In three years, Iran executed more child offenders than all the other countries combined.
2004 – China executed one child offender.(12) Iran executed three.
2005 – Sudan executed two child offenders. Iran executed eight.
2006 – Pakistan executed one child offender.(13) Iran executed four.