“Even those in the Guardian Council and religious hierarchy of Iran who continue to insist that Islam has determined the age of puberty as the age of responsibility to the extent of execution can not deny that not executing juveniles is not in violation of Islam “
By David Etebari
The news of a directive to all Iranian judiciary officials to commute the death sentences of juvenile offenders to life imprisonment, and then in a second stage to 15 years was happily but cautiously welcomed by Stop Child Executions and the human rights activists and organizations worldwide. (http://scenews.blog.com/4023595/)
The announcement by Iran’s Attorney General for Judicial Affairs was made on the eve of the UN General Assembly‘s annual debate on the Rights of the Child. The General Assembly was asked by Stop Child Executions and more than 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from 82 countries to fully implement the absolute ban on the juvenile death penalty, as required by customary law, the Convention on the Rights of the child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as highlighted by the U.N. Secretary-General’s recent study on violence against children. The signed petition also called on the General Assembly to request a report from the UN secretary-general on all states’ compliance with the absolute ban on the juvenile death penalty, including information on the number of juvenile offenders currently on death row and the number executed during the last five years. (http://scenews.blog.com/4002434/)
In it’s recently published comprehensive list of recommendation and solutions to end child executions in Iran, Stop Child Executions asked Iran’ supreme leader as well as the head of judiciary to Immediately halt all death sentences for crimes committed before the age of 18. The document also asked the United Nations to set deadlines and ultimatums and in the case of non-compliance to issue disciplinary actions against the government of Islamic Republic through appropriate departments. (http://scenews.blog.com/3972843/ )
The demands were echoed by the Human Rights Watch officials asking The General Assembly to adopt strong, detailed recommendations on the steps states should take to implement the prohibition on the juvenile death penalty, and then follow up to monitor states’ actions.
To date nearly 19,000 people worldwide including many human rights activists and government officials have signed the SCE petition to end child executions: ( http://www.petitiononline.com/sce/).
During his recent visit to United Nation, Iran’s president Ahmadinejad was faced with an embaressing wall of shame rally organized by Nazanin Afshin-Jam and SCE. In his interview with New York Times, Ahmadinejad completely denied existence of child executions in Iran and when given example of recently executed Iranian juvenile Behnam Zare, he faslefully claimed that Behnam was a drug traficker! It is about time that instead of denying the facts,
Iran’s government join the international community and permanently end child executions without any exceptions by incorporating it in to laws.
It is obvious that the leadership and the officials of the Islamic regime have felt the mounting pressure within Iran and the international community to end their barbaric practice of child executions or to face future consequences.
Meanwhile we must assure that the recent announcement by a non-senior official was not just a temporary effort to diffuse the current pressure but a genuine first step to permanently end juvenile executions.
Iran’s officials must immediately and publicly publish the recently announced directive to end executions in its entirety. It is also important to verify at what official level the directive has been endorsed. An official confirmation of the directive by a higher level official such as the Iran’s head of judiciary Ayatollah Shahrudi and especially by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei would confirm the validity and future implementation of the directive.
Iranian and international journalists and press are highly encouraged to interview and obtain the official positions of Iran’s highest officials about this directive.
In 2004 after the international outrage over the execution of an innocent 16 year old Iranian girl, Atefeh Salaaheh for “acts incompatible with chastity” a 32 point bill was announced by Iran’s judiciary spokesperson offering new juvenile laws and banning child executions. At the time the judiciary spokesperson called the bill “a phenomenal breakthrough“but to date the parliamentary bill has been blocked by the conservative members of parliaments and the Guardian Council, who is responsible for compliance of the new laws with their interpretation of Islam. Iran’s current ultra conservative parliament is yet to pursue the bill with proper revisions to address all forms of child executions in Iran including the execution for revenge (Ghisas). 5 years ago Ayatollah Shahrudi claimed to have ordered the judges to no longer issue death penalty verdicts for those under the age of 18 but himself continued to give final approval (estizan) for death sentences verdicts which lead to execution of many juveniles in the past 5 years!
However if the recent directive has the support of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei; the parliament and the Guardian Council will have no option but to pass the ban on child executions in to Iran’s laws.
Until such ban is not endorsed by Ayatollah Khamenei or written in to the law, independent of any directives, some ultra-conservative judges relying on their interpretation of the existing laws and Islam may continue to issue death sentences without any legal consequences.
Foe example we have witnessed sporadic public executions in parts of Iran despite direct order by the head of judiciary to ban public executions last year . The same example applies to the stoning when an Iranian man was stoned last year although the judges were instructed to no longer order such verdicts. Another example is the case of a juvenile offender who was executed by local authorities despite direct order by Ayatollah Shahrudi not to execute him pending the review of his case.
Currently judges consider 9 year old girls and boys as young as 15 years mature enough to be executed. Meanwhile the Iran’s laws do not consider the same boys and girls mature enough to own or transfer real estate, to sign contracts, apply for passports, hold drivers license, to vote etc. Although the law has clearly distinguished 18 as the age of responsibility and maturity however the Iranian judiciaries have continued to execute children under the pretext of Islamic Sharia. Earlier this month the judiciary spokesperson supported child executions by stating that “Ghisas execution is an exercise of one’s private rights, and we do not have the right to forsake it. … In this regard, the Guardian Council has delineated the conflict between the legal and religious laws -in this case the Council has reverted to the side of religious laws….Ghisas is a religious right, and it has to be obeyed”.
In fact the Islamic scholar’s views on the age of maturity vary and there is no universal age of legal responsibility that they have agreed to. The only area that the majority of Islamic scholars have an agreement is that after puberty boys and girls are obligated to practice their religious duties such as daily prayers, fasting, etc. The proponents of child executions have been unable to provide any direct references in the Islamic holy book Quran or in the life practices of Islam’s prophet referencing the age of penal responsibility. Short of such proof, in fact the age of penal and civil responsibility has been left to Moslems civil society to determine. It is common among the Islamic scholars that when they are not sure about a specific practice, they rule for the more general opinions which can encumber all others and avoid more narrow rulings. Obviously such practice especially should be of the most concern when it comes to the matters of life and death of a child. Even Iran’s own laws instruct judges to decide based on what they are sure of rather than what is doubtful.
When dealing with their own finances and banks, extremist members of the Islamic Republic have long overlooked direct Islamic laws not to pay or collect interest on money, however when it comes to the matter of life and death of a child where there are no direct Islamic rulings, the same people have been promoting the most extremist and narrow views! Even those in the Guardian Council and religious hierarchy of Iran who continue to insist that Islam has determined the age of puberty as the age of responsibility to the extent of execution can not deny that not executing juveniles is not in violation of Islam. After all the words compassion and mercy has been repeated in the beginning verse of every chapter of Quran not to mention that it has been addressed many more times within its texts.
Iran has executed more than 26 juveniles since 2005 , at least 8 have been executed this year alone and more than 140 others are awaiting executions (www.stopchildexecutions.com/scedata.aspx).
It was only two years ago that Nazanin Afshin-jam started the campaign to save 17 year old Nazanin Fatehi who was going to be executed for murdering one of the three man who were attempting to rape her and her younger niece. More than a year of struggle and campaigning and the support of 350,000 people worldwide in form of a petition, eventually lead to the release of Nazanin Fatehi and the formation of the Stop Child Executions Campaign.
Ever since scores of Iranian human rights activists and attorneys including Mohammad Mostafaei who represents more than 20 Iranian juveniles facing executions have written many articles and official letters to Iran’s head of judiciary and parliament asking for an end to child executions. Nowadays, there is not a week that the issue of child executions is not addressed by the Iranian newspapers, activists, lawyers, celebrities, bloggers and public or the International organizations and officials.
Thanks to the initiative and determinations of Nazanin Afshin-Jam, the will to Stop Child Execution has now rooted in the awareness of the Iranians society. Such leaps of conscious are irreversible and it is only a matter of time before the world will only remember such barbaric practice in the chapters of history.
David Etebari is the co-founder and vice president of the Stop Child Executions.