Iranians outlaw execution of juvenile offenders

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The Independent Online

Human rights organisations today praised Iran for announcing an end to the widely-condemned practice of juvenile executions – a decision which should spare the lives of 130 youths on death row.

A senior Iranian judiciary official issued a directive to judges to abolish the execution sentences for juvenile offenders, and replace them with life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Hossein Zabhi, the Assistant Attorney for Judicial Affairs, told the state-run Iranian news agency that in addition to commuting the death sentence, "in cases of good behaviour and signs of rehabilitation, juvenile offenders may qualify for conditional release under Islamic compassion guidelines."

"This decision is long overdue given that Iran leads the world in executing juvenile offenders, and it is a significant step towards honouring international law," said Hadi Ghaemi, the US-based coordinator of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. He called for an immediate halt to all pending executions of youths aged under 18.

"This directive, if properly implemented, is a very significant step for the rights of children in Iran," Mr Ghaemi said.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which along with activists inside Iran have also campaigned for years on the issue, welcomed the move. In Iran, the Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has been among those pressing authorities to abolish the death penalty for juveniles.

However the decision, made on Thursday, is not yet legally binding as it needs to be ratified by the Iranian parliament and Mr Ghaemi cautioned that the judiciary had in 2004 issued a similar directive which was largely ignored by judges.

Six juvenile offenders have been arrested so far this year, the latest known case being that of Behnam Zare, who was hung in Shiraz on 26 August for a crime he committed at the age of 15.

Since January 2005, Iran has been responsible for 26 of the 32 known executions of juvenile offenders worldwide, despite being a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life imprisonment without the possibility of release for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age.

Only a handful of other states are defying international law by executing youths aged under 18: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan and Sudan.

Amnesty International UK’s Death Penalty Campaign Manager, Kim Manning-Cooper expressed the hope that the latest move would pave the way for a complete abolition of the ultimate penalty in Iran.

* Iran yesterday failed in its bid to become a member of the UN Security Council for a two-year period, after being defeated by Japan for the Asia seat in a secret ballot by the 192-nation General Assembly. The other four countries elected as non-permanent members were Austria, Turkey, Uganda and Mexico. The five take up their seats next January.

Japan easily defeated Iran by 158 votes to 32 for the hotly contested Asia seat.