The scheduled executions in Iran this week of two juvenile offenders – and their last-minute reprieve – highlight the country’s status as the world leader in juvenile executions, Human Rights Watch said.
In what would have been at least the 15th such execution in the past five years, Sina Paymard was scheduled to be put to death by hanging on September 20, two weeks after his 18th birthday. The second youth was Ali Alijan, now 19. Each was convicted of a murder committed under the age of 18. According to Paymard’s lawyer, the sentencing court did not properly consider evidence that Paymard suffered from a mental disorder.
Both youths received reprieves on Wednesday by the families of the victims, who exercised their option under Iran’s Islamic penal code to seek blood money in lieu of the death penalty. If an offer of blood money meets certain formalities – it must be in writing and notarized, for example – and the individual found responsible for the crime pays, there is no possibility of imposing the death penalty in the future for that crime. Capital punishment is by hanging for most crimes in Iran.
“Although these two youths were spared by last-minute acts of mercy, Iran has earned the dubious distinction as the world leader in executing child offenders,” said Clarisa Bencomo, children’s rights researcher on the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “The Iranian authorities should abolish this repugnant practice at once.”
When a defendant has been sentenced to death in Iran, the victim’s family members are asked just before execution is carried out if they wish to offer forgiveness. Paymard’s pardon came after he was granted a final request to play the ney, a Middle Eastern flute. According to press accounts, his playing greatly affected those present to witness the execution, including the victim’s family members.
A third youth, who was either 20 or 21 at the time of his execution this week, was not granted a pardon by family members. It is not known whether he was under the age of 18 at the time of the crime for which he was convicted.
Two core international human rights treaties, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18. Iran has ratified both treaties.
Iran has executed more juvenile offenders in the last five years than any other nation. It is known to have executed 14 juvenile offenders since 2001, including at least one earlier this year and eight in 2005. About 30 juvenile offenders are on death row in the country.
The United States, China, and Pakistan are the only other countries known to have put juvenile offenders to death since 2001. Pakistan has conducted two such executions, including one this year. China has executed two juvenile offenders. Five juvenile offenders were put to death in the United States during this period before the U.S. Supreme Court declared the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional in March 2005.
For five years, Iran’s parliament has considered legislation that would amend the civil code to prohibit executions for crimes committed under the age of 18. Human Rights Watch, which opposes capital punishment in all circumstances, urged Iran’s leadership to support these reforms.