Hanging of Behnoud Shojaie Is Third in 2009
October 13, 2009
"The Iranian Judiciary's enthusiasm to execute juvenile offenders despite its international obligations and objections in Iran itself to such brutal acts is shocking...This is a callous affront to basic human dignity."
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director

(New York) - Iran hanged juvenile offender Behnoud Shojaie on October 12, 2009, despite an unequivocal international ban on such executions, and an initial pardon by the victim's family, Human Rights Watch said today. Shojaie, now 21, was executed for a killing that he committed in 2005, when he was 17 years old.

The father and mother of the victim, Ehsan Nasrollahi, implemented the punishment themselves at Evin prison, despite their initial pardon.

"The Iranian Judiciary's enthusiasm to execute juvenile offenders despite its international obligations and objections in Iran itself to such brutal acts is shocking," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This is a callous affront to basic human dignity."

Iranian government officials arranged for Shojaie's execution despite a stay of execution issued by Sadegh Ardeshir Larijani, Iran's new head of the Judiciary, on August 19. According to his lawyer, Mohammad Mostafaei, Shojaie had walked to the noose six times since the Supreme Court upheld his sentence in 2007, with a last minute reprieve on each occasion.

Shojaie killed Ehsan Nasrollahi during a fight in 2005, when he was 17 years old. He testified during his trial that Nasrollahi intended to attack him with a knife and he defended himself with a piece of broken glass. Shojaie's attorneys said in his defense during the trial that their client had committed involuntary manslaughter, requesting a sentence of payment of blood money (dieh) instead of execution. The prosecutor refused, accusing Shojaie of inflicting multiple wounds on the victim.

Iran is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 37 of the convention explicitly prohibits sentencing individuals to death for crimes they committed under the age of 18. 

The court issued Shojaie's death sentence despite a 2004 order by then-Head of Judiciary Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi banning death sentences for individuals convicted of crimes committed under the age of 18.

Shojaie's lawyer Mostafaei described his last minutes:

"There was a large crowd outside the prison. Many people were begging Ehsan Nasrollahi's parents to forgive Behnoud. They said they would forgive him, and the atmosphere calmed down considerably. There were about 300 people there.  We went inside and they prepared for the execution. They brought Behnoud in.  He fell at the feet of Ehsan's parents and begged them to forgive him. He told Ehsan's mother that he had lost his own mother, and wished her to act as his mother and spare him from execution. Ehsan's mother then said that she must see the noose around his neck. They took us to a hall and they put the noose around his neck. There were a lot of people there, appealing to the family to forgive Behnoud. The victim's parents pulled the stool from under Behnoud's feet. He didn't breathe. His family was waiting outside. Up until Ehsan's mother pulled the stool from under Behnoud's feet, I kept thinking all she wanted to do was to see the noose around his neck. I couldn't believe it when she pulled the stool and executed him."

Human Rights Watch said that the hanging of Behnoud Shojaie is Iran's third execution of a juvenile since the beginning of 2009. On May1, Iran secretly hanged another juvenile offender despite a flawed trial and a stay of execution. Delara Darabi, 22, was executed for a killing that she allegedly committed when she was 17 years old.

On January 21, Iran executed a 21-year-old Afghan citizen, Molla Gol Hassan, in Evin prison for a crime allegedly committed when he was 17 years old.

Iran executed at least seven juvenile offenders in 2008.

According to human rights lawyers in Iran, at least 130 juvenile offenders are on death row. Iran leads all countries of the world in executing juvenile offenders. Since January 2005, only four other countries are known to have executed juvenile offenders - Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, and Yemen.