Iran executed seven children last year, says UN as 90 remain on death row

‘The bottom line is that she was a juvenile at the time the offence was committed’ UN chief says of latest execution

Vincent Wood
Thursday 24 October 2019 14:10

Iran has executed at least 12 child offenders since the start of 2018 while at least 90 are currently sitting on death row awaiting their punishment, the United Nations has heard.

Among the world leaders in execution, Iranian courts bestowed the penalty on at least 253 people last year – with China the only country in the world to put more of its own citizens to death.

Now an assessment made by the UN’s special investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, has revealed seven of those killed by the state in 2018 were child offenders – in breach of international law but in keeping with the country’s legislation.

In Iran the death penalty can apply to children as soon as they are deemed to have reached maturity - for boys as young as 15 and girls as young as 9.

Meanwhile crimes judged under qisas, or retributive ‘eye for an eye’ justice, carry the same sentences for all – meaning child offenders can be punished with death for the crime of murder.

Among those to be put to death in 2019 was Zeinab Sekaanvand, who became the fifth execution of a child offender this year on 1 October.

Convicted of murdering her husband at age 17, her detention and trial were marred by claims she was a victim of domestic violence, and had been forced to make a false confession while she was denied access to a lawyer.

Mr Rehman said he was “alarmed” by her execution, adding that her trial raised “numerous due process concerns.”

He added that he “appealed to the Iranian authorities to abolish the practice of sentencing children to death, and to commute all death sentences issued against children in line with international law.

In total 21 children have been sentenced to death since 2013, when the law was adapted to give judges the discretion to exempt children from the death penalty if they did not understand the nature of their actions.

Commenting on the execution of Ms Sekaanvand earlier this month, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the “sheer injustice” of the case was “deeply distressing”.

She added: “The bottom line is that she was a juvenile at the time the offence was committed, and international law clearly prohibits the execution of juvenile offenders.”

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