Iranians outlaw execution of juvenile offenders

By Anne Penketh, Diplomatic Editor
Friday, 17 October 2008 

Human rights organisations today praised Iran for announcing an end to the 
widely-condemned practice of juvenile executions - a decision which should 
spare the lives of 130 youths on death row. 

A senior Iranian judiciary official issued a directive to judges to abolish the 
execution sentences for juvenile offenders, and replace them with life 
imprisonment with the possibility of parole. Hossein Zabhi, the Assistant 
Attorney for Judicial Affairs, told the state-run Iranian news agency that in 
addition to commuting the death sentence, "in cases of good behaviour and signs 
of rehabilitation, juvenile offenders may qualify for conditional release under 
Islamic compassion guidelines." 

"This decision is long overdue given that Iran leads the world in executing 
juvenile offenders, and it is a significant step towards honouring 
international law," said Hadi Ghaemi, the US-based coordinator of the 
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. He called for an immediate 
halt to all pending executions of youths aged under 18. 

"This directive, if properly implemented, is a very significant step for the 
rights of children in Iran," Mr Ghaemi said. 

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which along with activists inside 
Iran have also campaigned for years on the issue, welcomed the move. In Iran, 
the Nobel peace prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has been among those pressing 
authorities to abolish the death penalty for juveniles. 

However the decision, made on Thursday, is not yet legally binding as it needs 
to be ratified by the Iranian parliament and Mr Ghaemi cautioned that the 
judiciary had in 2004 issued a similar directive which was largely ignored by 

Six juvenile offenders have been arrested so far this year, the latest known 
case being that of Behnam Zare, who was hung in Shiraz on 26 August for a crime 
he committed at the age of 15. 

Since January 2005, Iran has been responsible for 26 of the 32 known executions 
of juvenile offenders worldwide, despite being a party to the UN Convention on 
the Rights of the Child, which prohibits life imprisonment without the 
possibility of release for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age. 

Only a handful of other states are defying international law by executing 
youths aged under 18: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan and Sudan. 

Amnesty International UK's Death Penalty Campaign Manager, Kim Manning-Cooper 
expressed the hope that the latest move would pave the way for a complete 
abolition of the ultimate penalty in Iran. 

* Iran yesterday failed in its bid to become a member of the UN Security 
Council for a two-year period, after being defeated by Japan for the Asia seat 
in a secret ballot by the 192-nation General Assembly. The other four countries 
elected as non-permanent members were Austria, Turkey, Uganda and Mexico. The 
five take up their seats next January. 

Japan easily defeated Iran by 158 votes to 32 for the hotly contested Asia seat.

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