London-based human rights organization Amnesty International has called on Iran's judicial and political authorities to order an immediate moratorium to prevent further executions of child offenders. They also demand the laws be amended so children who commit crimes cannot be sentenced to death.
In a new report released on Wednesday, the organization said at least 71 child offenders were awaiting execution in Iran, where more child offenders have been executed than in any other country since 1990.
"Iran stands virtually alone as a country in which child offenders - persons under 18 at the time of the crime of which they were convicted - are put to death. It is high time that the Iranian authorities put an end to this shameful practice - for once and for all - and bring themselves in line with the rest of the international community, which has long recognized the obscenity of executing those who commit crimes while children," Malcolm Smart, director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, said.
In the report, entitled Iran: The last executioner of children, Amnesty lists the names of the 71 child offenders known to be facing the death penalty, but believes the total number could be much higher, as many death penalty cases in Iran are believed to go unreported.
Of the 24 child offenders recorded as having been executed since 1990, 11 were still under the age of 18 at the time of their execution while others have either been kept on death row until they reached 18 or were convicted and sentenced after reaching that age.
"The Iranian authorities deny that they execute children but so far this year we have already recorded two executions of child offenders," Smart said. "Muhammad Mousavi, aged 19, was executed in April for a crime committed when he was 16. Sa'id Qanbar Zahi, hanged in May at Zahedan prison, was only 17 when he was sentenced to death with six other members of Iran's Baluchi minority two months earlier."
The execution of Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, sentenced for "crimes against chastity" and hanged at the age of 16 in August 2004, is one of seven cases highlighted in the report. A day after her execution, a judiciary official told a newspaper that "she was 22 years old."
Besides Iran, Amnesty says the only records since 2003 of countries in which child offenders face executions are China, Sudan and Pakistan; although the Chinese and Pakistani authorities insisted that those executed were aged 18 or over at the time of the crime.
Some Iranian government officials and the judiciary are also believed to favor reducing, if not abolishing, the death penalty for child offenders, but progress has been slow. Amnesty say a draft law proposed in 2001 could lead to the abolition of the death penalty for minors, or at least reduce the number of offences for which child offenders could be sentenced to death. However, the draft is still under consideration.
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