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Iran: Revoke Death Sentences for Juvenile Offenders

Three Men Await Execution for Alleged Homosexual Conduct When Children

Iran should immediately halt the planned executions of three men under charges of male homosexual conduct allegedly committed when they were children, Human Rights Watch said today.

Mehdi P., from Tabriz; Moshen G., from Shiraz; and Nemat Safavi, from Ardebil, were accused in separate cases of committing homosexual acts when they were under age 18.  No date has been set for their execution yet, but the lawyer representing two of the men fears that it could happen any day.

"Killing people for what they did as children is wrong and repellent, and killing them for alleged homosexual conduct is just as wrong and repellent," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The Iranian government has flouted its most basic human rights obligations in allowing these cruel death sentences."

Mehdi P. and Moshen G. denied the charges, and no witnesses testified against them. Safavi was arrested at the age of 16 in 2006, and tried by a court in Ardebil, where he is being held.

The courts sentenced all three to death despite the requirement in Iran's shari'a-based criminal code that sexual offenses require a confession repeated four times or the testimony of four male witnesses.  However, the code allows judges to use their "knowledge" in determining guilt where no such evidence is available, a dangerously elastic provision. Judges relied on such discretionary "knowledge" to sentence Mehdi P. and Moshen G.  No information is available on the source of evidence for the third judgment.

Iran leads the world in executing juvenile offenders - at least seven in 2008, and at least three so far in 2009. The execution of another juvenile offender, Safar Angooti, who was charged with murder, was scheduled for October 21 but postponed at the last minute for a month. In February, the United Nations General Assembly called on Iran to abolish the execution of persons who were under age 18 at the time of their offense.

The juvenile death penalty is prohibited in international law, and the prohibition is absolute. Both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) specifically prohibit capital punishment of persons under 18 at the time of the offense. These provisions reflect the reality that children are different from adults, and lack the experience, judgment, maturity, and restraint of an adult. Iran ratified the ICCPR in 1975 and the CRC in 1994.

Lavat - consummated sexual activity between males, whether penetrative or not - is punishable by execution in Iranian law. Article 111 of the Code of Islamic Punishments or Penal Code states that "Lavat is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are mature, of sound mind, and have acted of free will." Tafkhiz - the rubbing together of thighs or buttocks or other forms of non-penetrative "foreplay" between men - is punishable by one hundred lashes for each partner, according to Articles 121-122 of the Penal Code. Recidivism is punishable by death on the fourth conviction.

In addition, Article 123 of the Penal Code further provides that "If two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity," each one will receive 99 lashes. Articles 127 to 134 stipulate that the punishment for sexual intercourse between women is 100 lashes and if the offense is repeated three times, the punishment is execution.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that nations that have not abolished the death penalty must only impose it for the "most serious crimes." The Human Rights Committee, which authoritatively interprets the covenant, has said that should mean the death penalty should be a "quite exceptional measure." In its 1994 landmark decision in the case of Toonen v. Australia, the Human Rights Committee held that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct violate the rights to privacy and protection from discrimination.

In 2008, the Deputy Attorney General of Iran announced that Iranian judicial authorities would ban the juvenile death penalty for non-murder-related offenses, effective immediately, pending parliamentary approval.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel and inhumane nature. Human rights principles and protections are founded upon respect for the inherent dignity of all human beings and the inviolability of the human person. These principles cannot be reconciled with the death penalty, a form of punishment that is unique in its cruelty and finality. The intrinsic fallibility of all criminal justice systems assures that even when full due process of law is respected, innocent persons may be executed.

"These three death sentences violate promises the Iranian government has repeatedly made, to the international community and to its own people, to stop executing people for crimes they committed as children," Whitson said.

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