£120k to save young on death row in Iran

Lawyer seeks donors to pay blood money to spare juvenile offenders
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An Iranian lawyer has made a desperate appeal for four juvenile offenders on death row, asking for donations towards the £120,000 in blood money that could save their lives.

Mohammad Mostafaie represents a number of clients sentenced to death for murders committed when they were under 18. He made the plea on his website yesterday: "By collecting 200 million tomans (£120,000), you can save the lives of three to four youngsters," he wrote.

Under Sharia law as practiced in Iran, families have the right to pardon convicted killers in exchange for financial compensation, or blood money.

One of the prisoners in question, Safar Angooti, was due to be executed earlier this week for a murder he committed at the age of 17. Protesters gathered outside the jail where he was due to die on Wednesday morning to petition on his behalf.

At the last minute, he had his sentence delayed after the authorities ruled that there was a chance he could be reprieved by the family of his victim. The teenager's family now have a month to find the necessary compensation.

Mr Mostafaie has set up a special account for the appeal, which is also accessible via the campaign website www.stopchildexecutions.com, and has urged Iranians living both inside and outside the country to help.

The respected human rights lawyer – who was briefly imprisoned earlier this year for defending protesters detained after Iran's disputed election – has long worked on behalf of children facing execution in Iran.

However, his attempt to secure several clients a pardon is highly unusual. The pardons are rare because very few Iranian families can find the large sums necessary to secure a reprieve.

Earlier this month, Mr Mostafaie posted a blog that detailed his despair at a last-minute attempt to save the life of Behnoud Shojaie, who tried to stop a fight when he was 17 and ended up stabbing the aggressor with a shard of glass. In a waiting room near the execution chamber three years after his sentencing, he begged the mother of the victim to relent.

But, Mr Mostafaie wrote, the mother replied: "I cannot think right now. I have to put the rope around his neck". Minutes later, the victim's parents pulled the stool away from under the condemned man, who was 21 by the time of he was hung. "I could not bear to watch," Mr Mostafaie wrote. "He shouldn't have been executed. But he was executed."

Iran is one of only three countries, with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to put juveniles to death. Last year, state prosecutors announced a moratorium on juvenile executions, and the head of the judiciary has opposed the practice. But that ruling did not cover executions classed as qesas, or retribution, and demanded by the family of the victim.

Under Sharia law, criminal responsibility starts with the end of puberty – defined as 14 years and seven months for boys, and eight years and nine months for girls.

There have been at least 42 juvenile executions since 1990, part of a wider punitive culture that sees Iran execute more people per capita than any other country in the world – 346 last year. Five more died in Tehran's notorious Evin jail on Wednesday morning.

Amnesty International UK's campaigns director, Tim Hancock, yesterday praised lawyers like Mr Mostafaie for "fighting a brave battle to save the lives of people facing execution".

But he called for Iran to outlaw juvenile executions completely. "The death penalty is always cruel and inhumane," he said. "But when someone is executed for a crime committed when they were still a child, this inhumanity is clearer still."

Sina Paymard: Family found the £96,000

The price for Sina Paymard's life was £96,000. After he killed a drug dealer at 16, his parents tried everything to raise the blood money, but they could only raise £42,000 – a sum the victim's family rejected. At dawn on 18 July in 2006, the convicted man was due to die. But on the gallows, Paymard, a musician, played a song on his flute. The victim's family were so moved that they decided to delay the sentence. Given 10 days extra, Paymard's family found donors to stump up the rest of the money – and their son was spared. Despite his reprieve, though, Paymard's story ended sadly. He died in hospital earlier this year.

Behnoud Shojaie: Couldn't raise blood money

Behnoud Shojaie's life hung in the balance for years. He was sentenced to death in 2006 for the murder of another boy in a fight when he was 17 – a death that Shojaie always maintained that he did not intend. He was twice granted a stay of execution, but the sum demanded by the victim's parents – although reduced from £1.25m to £375,000 – was beyond the means of his grandparents, who had raised him after his mother's death. In the execution chamber, he made a final plea to the victim's mother: "I don't have a mother," he said. "Please act as a mother and tell them not to execute me." He was hanged earlier this month.