The Paradox of Executing Juveniles

Source: Asieh Amini – 2008.10.26  published in Roozonline

‎Last week, two comments from the same senior judiciary official in Iran over the ‎executions of juveniles prompted a new controversy in the country’s media. Initially, the ‎deputy prosecutor for judiciary affairs of Iran said no death sentences would be passed ‎for individuals under the age of 18. Three days later,
he said what he had meant was not ‎that the implementation of Ghesas (punishment in kind), the punishment of death for ‎those who had committed a murder as requested by the victim’s family, for individuals ‎under 18 should be stopped. ‎

This difference in view is because of the two different interpretations that exist for the  ‎concept of Ghesas among experts and among laymen. In Islam, Ghesas is not defined as a ‎‎“public right” which is why the relatives of a murder victim have the right to request  that ‎the death penalty be implemented or not implemented for the perpetrator of the murder. ‎The death penalty, on the other hand, is a public right, and not a part of private rights.‎
This distinction had also been made early by Dr Alireza Jamshidi, the spokesperson of ‎the judiciary. He had said that there was a difference between the death penalty and ‎Ghesas and said that individuals who were under 18 years of age were not given  the death ‎penalty, and that only murderers received the Ghesas punishment. But this  statement does ‎not reflect the reality either. Since 2004 there have been at least three  cases in which the ‎death penalty was executed on cases that did not involve a murder.

The cases involved a ‎prostitution (as attested by the confessions of the person), a  homosexual sex (as confessed ‎by witnesses), and, smuggling of drugs, which was  basically ignored by the media. But ‎more importantly, during the last four years (i.e. exactly a year since the first order ‎banning the execution of individuals under 18 years old was issued by the head of Iran’s ‎judiciary) at least two cases of executing Ghesas have been recorded for individuals who ‎were under 18 years  of age (Atefeh who was 16 and Mohammad Hassanzadeh who was ‎‎17 years old). ‎

With these known cases, the question that is raised is that why is supervision over courts ‎by the judiciary so weak that a violation of the orders of the head of the judiciary and the ‎violations of the express laws in this regard are easily tolerated. Another question that is ‎relevant is that why despite the existence of sufficient evidence regarding  judicial ‎violations in the implementation of the death penalty for those less than 18 years old, ‎officials insist on denying the execution of such orders. But most importantly, why
 do ‎officials use religious and legal terms when talking with people, who are not familiar  ‎with these technical terms, thus creating confusion or undue expectations for the relatives ‎and family members of the juveniles. On the first issue, the deputy prosecutor had said ‎that defendants who were under 18 years old would not face the death penalty as the law ‎prescribed, regardless of the crime they had committed. These words had no ifs or buts.

 ‎And no specific crimes, committed by people under 18 years of age, such as murder or ‎other crimes with the death penalty as their reprimands, were identified or listed. So ‎despite these remarks, just three days after assurances were provided by the judiciary, the ‎very  same judiciary official announced that individuals who had been sentenced for ‎Ghesas,  would actually be executed because the decision to execute them or not rested ‎with the relatives of the victim. When something is said in front of the media which lacks ‎any conditions, the conclusion is that is reached is much larger.‎

The history of issuing circulars in line with human rights, has not been short. We have ‎repeatedly heard from judiciary authorities that the leaders if the judiciary are working to ‎improve laws or to improve the laws.‎ In fact one of the key duties of the Judiciary is to present bills to the government who in ‎turn sends them to executive branch of government after its review. If the law is not ‎modified, then the law may rest in contradiction with other laws. For example in criminal ‎cases where the law allows the judge to monitor the implementation of the sentence from ‎the time the sentence is passed, in fact the order to stay the implementation of a judgment ‎is in contradiction with the law and a judge in such a situation would be in violation of ‎one of the laws, regardless of which he chose to follow. So when there are laws in Iran ‎that allow the execution of a juvenile, prohibiting such executions through circulars or ‎judicial orders issued by the head of the judiciary in fact creates a paradox.