(Beirut) - The execution of two children in southern Iran is an abhorrent violation of Iran’s human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 25, 2019, authorities in Adel Abad prison in Shiraz, Fars province executed two 17-year-old cousins, Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat.
Authorities arrested Sohrabifar and Sedaghat in May or June 2017, when both were 15, on several accusations including rape, a source who preferred to remain anonymous told Human Rights Watch. Both children were detained in a juvenile detention center until authorities transferred them to Adel Abad prison a day before they were executed.
“There is no justification for executing children,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Iranian officials transported Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat straight from a juvenile facility to the gallows.”
International law strictly prohibits the use of capital punishment in all cases in which the accused was under 18 at the time of the crime.
In recent years, Iranian judicial authorities often waited until a child sentenced to death had turned 18 before executing them, claiming that they were no longer a child. Documents Human Rights Watch reviewed indicated that Sohrabifar was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and had been enrolled in a special school for children with disabilities.
The source who spoke to Human Rights Watch said that Iran’s Supreme Court had reversed the children’s death sentences once, but the court in Shiraz reinstated them. Another source said that the court that reinstated the death penalty was branch 1 of Fars province criminal court, and that the Supreme Court had upheld that verdict. A forensic doctor had determined that Sohrabifar and Sedaghat had reached the developmental maturity to understand the nature of the crimes, the source said.
The authorities had not informed the families or lawyers about the verdict before the executions took place, and only after the families visited the children in Adel Abad prison told them that this was their last visit.
At least one other alleged child offender is on death row in Adel Abad Prison in Shiraz. Mohammad Reza Haddadi was initially sentenced to death for an alleged murder at age 15 and has been on death row since 2003.
Iran is one of only five countries known to have executed people since 2013 who were children at the time of their offense. The others are Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, and Yemen. Hamas authorities in Gaza have also executed child offenders. Iran is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which bans executing offenders who were children at the time of their offense.
Iran’s penal code, as amended in 2013, prohibits executing child offenders for certain categories of crimes, including drug-related offenses. For other serious crimes, article 91 of the amended penal code allows judges to use their discretion and not issue a death sentence against a child who was not able to comprehend the nature and consequences of the crime at the time. The amended law also allows the courts to rely on “the opinion of a forensic doctor or other means it deems appropriate” to establish whether a defendant understood the consequences of their actions.
However, Iranian courts have continued to sentence children to death after these amendments became law. From 2014 to the end of 2017, Iran executed at least 25 people for crimes committed when they were children, according to Amnesty International and Iran Human Rights. In 2018 alone, Iran executed seven people for crimes they allegedly committed as children. In the case of Abolfazl Chezani Sherahi who was executed on June 27, 2018, a forensic doctor had claimed that he had sufficient “developmental maturity” to understand his crime and therefore be executed for it.
A growing body of neuroscientific research states that children, including those who are 16 or 17, are different than adults and in important respects less culpable than adults who commit the same crimes, and more amenable to rehabilitation, a key objective in juvenile justice systems.
Since 2012, Human Rights Watch has urged the Iranian government to amend its penal code to impose an absolute prohibition on the death penalty for child offenders, as required by international law. Human Rights Watch has also said that Iran’s judiciary should impose an immediate moratorium on executions due to the serious concerns regarding due process violations leading to the implementation of the death penalty, and move toward abolishing capital punishment. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because it is an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.
“Until Iran bans the death penalty, Iranian judges should use the legal authority they already have and stop sending children to be killed by the state,” Page said. “The Iranian criminal justice system flouted universal norms and demonstrated needless cruelty, not justice, by its appalling executions of Sohrabifar and Sedaghat.”