Iran: The last executioner of children

Report
January 1, 2011

Iran: The last executioner of children



Ta’zir crimes
There is only one crime in the ta’zir section of the Penal Code for which execution is mentioned – "cursing the Prophet [of Islam]" (Article 513). The death penalty is also provided for crimes covered in the Anti-Narcotics Law introduced in January 1989, and amended in 1997.19 These crimes include smuggling or distribution of more than 5kg of hashish or opium, or more than 30g of heroin, codeine, methadone or morphine. People who commit a fourth offence of cultivation of narcotic plants, recidivist (repeated) possession of opium and hashish, and the manufacture or supply of various chemicals that can be used in the manufacture of drugs can also receive the death penalty.

Punishments for ta’zir crimes are open to pardon – for example, Article 38 of the Anti-Narcotics law allows for death sentences imposed under this law to be sent to the Amnesty Commission "if there are reasons by which the punishment… can be mitigated." Moreover, repeat offenders whose cumulative possession of heroin, morphine or cocaine or their derivatives exceeds the stipulated amounts are regarded as "corrupt on earth" and punishable by death – that is, their crimes may be regarded as falling under the hodoud section of the Penal Code and, therefore, would appear not to be open to pardon. The Anti-Narcotics Law also provides for the death penalty for armed smuggling of narcotics – from media reports about the executions of alleged armed drug smugglers, it appears that in at least some cases, although it is not specifically stated, perpetrators are designated as "being at enmity with God", a hodoud offence.
Iranian legislation on child offenders
In terms of juveniles in Iran’s justice system, Article 49 of the Penal Code states: "[M]inors, if committing an offence, are exempted from criminal responsibility. Their correction is the responsibility of their guardians or, if the court decides, by a centre for correction of minors."
A minor is defined as "a person who has not reached the age of maturity as stipulated by Islamic jurisprudence". The age of majority in Iran is nine for girls and 15 for boys, implying that children of these ages and above can be sentenced to death. Amnesty International is aware of one girl on death row in Iran for a crime committed when she may have been only 13, and several cases of boys who were 15 at the time of the offence, and one who may have been only 14.
Officials from the Iranian Government and the Judiciary have repeatedly stated that Iran does not execute children, even though it is known that some offenders have been executed before they reached the age of 18. However, in most cases the authorities wait until child offenders have turned 18 before executing them. It is not clear whether the authorities understand that such executions still constitute executions of child offenders and therefore violate Iran’s international obligations.
Juvenile Crimes Investigation Act
Legislation that would reportedly prohibit the use of the death penalty for offences committed by people under the age of 18 was put before the Majles in around 2001, and in mid-2006 the Majles gave an initial reading to the Juvenile Crimes Investigation Act. In May 2007, the draft law was reportedly passed back from a committee for reconsideration by the Majles. If finally passed, the legislation would still have to be approved by the Council of Guardians, which has the responsibility for checking its adherence to Islamic law, before it enters into force. It is believed that the Council of Guardians is unlikely to approve the legislation.
Although the draft law has some welcome provisions, it also contains serious flaws that would limit its effectiveness in preventing the execution of child offenders. These flaws fall into five areas: confusion over which courts have jurisdiction in juvenile cases; the procedures to stop an execution; the right to appeal; the granting of pardons; and the distinction between qesas and the death sentence.