Iran has instructed all courts to stop issuing death sentences against juvenile offenders.
According to a statement by Hossein Zabhi, Assistant Attorney General for Judicial Affairs, a recently-issued directive instructs all judicial officials, when passing sentence, to apply the regulations of the Amnesty and Clemency Commission, which would allow the commutation of death sentences of juvenile offenders firstly to life imprisonment, and then in a second stage to 15 years.
In his interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency, Hossein Zabhi referred to all types of crime currently punishable by execution.
However, it is not clear if the directive includes those convicted of murder, for which the sentence is qesas (retribution in kind). The Iranian authorities have always contended that there is a distinction between cases of qesas and other crimes for which the death penalty is applied.
Most recently, the Head of the Supreme Court reaffirmed this claim on 13 October. This contention is not recognized under international law, which explicitly prohibits any juvenile offender from being put to death by the state.
Iran is currently the only country in the world known to have executed a juvenile offender in 2008. Juvenile offenders are usually not executed until they reach the age of 18 but Amnesty International is aware of some cases where children as young as 16 have been executed. According to information available to the organization, at least six juvenile offenders have already been hanged this year.
Amnesty International says that the Iranian authorities should release the text of the directive and make clear that they intend to uphold their international human rights obligations by including cases of those convicted of murder in this ban. In addition, Iran’s parliament should ensure that the directive is incorporated quickly into legislation currently under review, and for the higher legislative body, the Council of Guardians, to support this initiative.
The organization hopes this will pave the way to a complete abolition of the death penalty in Iran. It also calls for the legislation and implementation to adhere to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a state party.