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by Kimia Sanati

The State of Iran 2006

(IPS) TEHRAN -- In Iran it is difficult to figure out when a person is considered an adult. According to Article 49 of the Islamic Penal Code the age of legal responsibility is nine years for girls and 15 for boys. Youngsters of both sexes, however, have to wait until they are 16 to vote in elections, and 18 to open a bank account, get a driver's license, or sell property in their names.

They can be hanged at any age.

A girl known only as Nazanin, 17, turned herself in to police six months ago after she stabbed and killed one of three assailants who she says were trying to attack her and her 14-year-old niece. Nazanin was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. She has appealed the verdict, Etemad Melli newspaper reported on Aug. 31.

In September, the same newspaper reported the execution of a youth, Sattar, in Tehran's Evin prison. He had killed a young man when he was 17, in a brawl over a public telephone booth.

Sattar was not hanged until he turned 18, but that has not stopped international bodies and human rights organizations within and outside Iran from condemning the Islamic state for the practice.

"Iran is the only country which still executed minors in 2005," Piers Bannister, coordinater of the death penalty team at Amnesty International in London, told IPS by telephone.

"The international community has recognized that children are special and require special attention," Bannister added. "The world is united on this matter."

As a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has agreed not to execute anyone for offences committed when they were under the age of 18. But it has repeatedly ignored the conventions.

Since 1990, Amnesty International has documented 19 prisoners who were children at the time of their alleged crimes yet have been hanged.

Groups like the UN Child Rights Committee, Amnesty and Hands Off Cain, among others, have called on Iran to abolish the death sentence for children. To mask their deed, these groups charge, the Tehran government typically postpones the execution until the prisoner is 18, or lies about the prisoner's age.

Rights groups also charge that Iran, which is the second only to China in the frequency of executions, also tends to sentence women to death for sex offences, whereas men are more likely to face lashings because, according to Shari'a law, men can have many temporary wives.

"Boys are at least luckier to be legally responsible only from the age of 15. But can you imagine a 10-year-old girl being sentenced to death for sex which usually comes in the form of rape at first, and goes on because the child is not able to fully comprehend the situation and is scared to tell anyone? Or an 11-year-old girl being hanged for killing someone?" a women's rights activist, wishing not to be named, told IPS.

In 2004, Atefeh Sahaaleh Rajabi was hastily tried and hanged in Neka in northern Iran. Her case drew international attention because she had no access to legal counsel. Although court documents said she had been 22 at the time of her hanging, her birth certificate and her father's identity information later proved she was only 16.

Sahaaleh was found guilty by the state of having unlawful sex four times. Human rights activists, however, say the girl suffered psychological problems and was repeatedly raped by a 51-year-old man, according to an Amnesty International report and a BBC documentary. She was hanged. He was sentenced to 100 lashes.

"The judge who tried her didn't take that into account, and when she appealed, the Supreme Court upheld the sentence anyway. Atefeh's family sued the judge after she was hanged but he has been acquitted," Nasrin Sotoudeh, a lawyer and children's rights activist, told IPS.

Since Sahaaleh was hanged, Amnesty International has documented at least nine more children executed by the state. In addition, Kaveh Habibnezhad, 14, died after being flogged. The boy had been caught eating in public during the month of fasting, a social worker from a state-run juvenile correction facility told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

Iran's Shari'a-based law conflicts with international law. International law does not allow executions for sex-related crimes. Shari'a does. In sex-related cases, even if there are no private plaintiffs, defendants are still prosecuted by the state, which acts as the guardian of public morals. When a defendant confesses to a crime or when the sufficient number of witnesses prescribed by Islamic law testifiy to the act, the sentences are automatic.

When Iran's reformist Parliament tried to raise the age of marriage to 18 for both sexes a few years ago, the move was vetoed three times by the six-member clerical Guardian Council. The Council must give the final authorization to parliament legislation, ascertaining that laws conform to Shari'a.

Parliament was insistent, and the case was referred to a higher body with legislative powers, the Expediency Council, set up to arbitrate between the two bodies. Eighteen months later, the Expediency Council finally raised the age of marriage for girls to 13 after much deliberation.

Homicide and sex-related offences, such as incest, adultery, prostitution or homosexuality, are the leading crimes for which adults and minors alike can be sentenced to death. Rarely, death sentences are meted out for drug-related charges. In a murder case, the family of the victim has 'blood rights' under Shari'a laws. This gives them a choice between asking for diye (blood money) or qisas (retribution by killing).

"The family of the murderer can pay compensation to the family of the victim in lieu of execution. The murderer then walks free. The rich can get away with murder, the poor die," Bannister said. If the victim's family waives its right to qisas, the defendant still must serve a 10-year sentence for the public side of the offence.

Zhila and Bakhtiar Izadyar, a brother and sister from western city of Marivan, were found guilty of incest when their baby was born in 2004. The children had been turned in to the police by their disgraced father. Information on their case is also scarce, but according to newspaper reports, the court that tried them sentenced Zhila to death and her brother to jail and lashes.

Campaigns to save her life and international pressure led Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Shahroudi to interfere in the case. In absence of private plaintiffs, he used his authority to reduce the sentence to lashes, which she received shortly before her child was born.

"The head of the Judiciary has expressly told UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) people here that if defendants sentenced to death for homicide send their cases to him after the final legal stages are taken, he would stop the sentence from being carried out," a lawyer not wishing to be named told IPS.

Shahroudi has in the past intervened in at least one other case involving a juvenile.

The Judiciary head, however, cannot pardon a person found guilty of homicide -- even if that person is a child.

"He can only keep the cases in a pending state meanwhile, so the relevant laws need to change to put an end to this," the lawyer said.

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Albion Monitor   October 3, 2006   (

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