Iranian young offenders Mahmoud Asgari (L) and Ayaz Marhoni are facing public execution on Tuesday 19 July 2005 in northeast Iran.
In Iran, individuals under the age of 18 are not permitted to vote, buy cigarettes, serve in the military, or obtain a driver’s license. These regulations have been established solely because, according to doctors and psychologists, the prefrontal cortex (front of the brain), which is responsible for a number of activities such as rational thinking, decision-making, and emotional regulation, is the last section of the brain to mature. Why then under execution laws, should juveniles be considered to be the foremost liable and deserving of the harshest punishment? How is this ethically and morally justifiable?
Iran is one of the only remaining nations to carry out juvenile executions, with 70% of the world’s juvenile executions in the last 30 years being undertaken by Iran. Throughout 2010-2020, Iran has executed at least 63 juvenile offenders, according to Iran’s Human Rights reports, cementing its disgraceful status as the leading nation for juvenile executions. Furthermore, these numbers are inconclusive and likely to be significantly higher due to the lack of disclosure pertaining to information on the young offenders and the death penalty from the government. This longstanding practice has been condemned by many for its violation of basic children’s rights. In February 2020, the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Iranian authorities “to prohibit the execution of child offenders in all circumstances and to commute their sentences”. As of early 2021, there are over 80 juvenile offenders on death row, with 4 facing forthcoming execution, one being Arman Abdolali.
Arman Abdolali’s case
Arman Abdolali was 17 when he was accused of killing his girlfriend, Ghazaleh Shakur at his home on March 3rd 2014. This court ruling was decided without ever discovering the body of the victim. His execution was due to be on October 12th. His execution has been scheduled twice before, in July 2021 and January 2020, but both times were delayed due to international outrage.
“The Iranian authorities are demonstrating their ruthless intent to resort to the death penalty in complete disregard for their obligations under international law by scheduling Arman Abdolali’s execution for a third time,”
Diana Eltahawy, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Image of Arman Abdolali
Photo credit : https://iranhr.net/en/articles/4935/
Carrying out the death penalty for juvenile offenders is a blatant violation of Article 6(5) of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) that states that the “Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age” as well as Article 37a of the UNCRC ( United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child) that states that “No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offenses committed by persons below eighteen years of age’’. Both of these international human rights treaties have been signed and ratified by Iran. However, Iran had declared that : “If the text of the Convention is or becomes incompatible with the domestic laws and Islamic standards at any time or in any case, the Government of the Islamic Republic shall not abide by it.”
In contrast to international human rights law, the IPC (Islamic Penal Code) and Note 1 of Article 1210 of the Civil Code unequivocally states that the age of criminal responsibility is aligned to the age of ‘maturity’ under Sharia Law. This means that boys at the age of 15 lunar years (14.6 years) and girls aged over 9 lunar years (8.7 years) are eligible for capital punishment if convicted of hudud ( Crimes against God ) or qisas (murder).
However, the recently implemented Article 91 of the IPC (Islamic Penal Code) gives judges the discretion to decide what alternative sanctions the defendant would receive in instances of qisas and hudud offenses where one of the two conditions is demonstrated : ‘the juvenile offender did not understand the nature of the committed crime or its prohibition, or if there is a doubt about their mental development and perfection’ . This article raises concern as to how does one reveal evidence that the nature of the crime has been unrecognized and how can ‘mental development’ be assessed ? Article 91 is ambiguously worded and arbitrarily applied. This sentiment has been repeatedly expressed by the Secretary-General of the UN. In many cases, judges may depend on their own evaluation even though they might not be knowledgeable on child psychology.
Arman Abdolali was also subject to flawed proceedings and unfair treatment. At the time of his detention, he had confessed to the murder. Later, he retracted his confession stating that when he was held in solitary confinement for 74 days upon his arrest, he had been ill treated and 'beaten' by the police and was coerced into the confession. This is a deeply troubling trend in juveniles that await execution. The police also allegedly withheld his asthma medication, which led to an increase in anxiety and distress. Additionally, no records were found in regard to whether he had access to an attorney during confinement or when he was interrogated. From the data in other cases and testimony of attorneys, defendants, and certain Iranian authorities, access to an attorney for the most part is not allowed to prisoners during interrogations.
This breach of due process and his coerced confession violates Article 14 of the ICCPR which states that “All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law”. It also highlights that individuals should “not be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt”. The use of torture and solitary confinement for a prolonged period of time would have resulted in his mental agony. Within the IPC, Article 169 states that “a confession taken under coercion, force, torture, mental or physical abuses or ill-treatment, shall not be given any validity and weight” . However, in this case it is evident that the confession had an impact on his court sentencing.
In December 2015, Tehran Province Criminal Court Branch Four denounced Arman to "Qisas of life" ("requital") – the death penalty. The Medical Examiner asserted that Arman Abdolali had accomplished "mental development" and comprehended the nature and outcomes of the crime. It isn't clear what evidence the Medical Examiner's Office used to conclude his mental development and advancement . In arriving at this choice, the court also depended on the assessment of a Children and Adolescent Court Advisor who expressed that Arman Abdolali comprehended the "reprehensible" nature of the crime. The preliminary and appeal verdicts both noted that he was held in delayed isolation for 74 days and beaten to "confess", however no investigation was requested and the "confessions'' were portrayed by the court as "unequivocal".
The Supreme Court awarded him a retrial in February 2020, based on new evidence and after the Children and Adolescent Court Advisor retracted her first judgment. His retrial, held at Branch 5 of Tehran Province's Criminal Court One, centered on whether there were any doubts about his "maturity" at the time of the crime. Subsequently, in September 2020, the court ruled that it was unrealistic and impossible to determine Abdolali’s “maturity” years after the crime had taken place and ruled that in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, his death sentence would be upheld.
"Iran must halt the execution of Mr. Abdolali and unconditionally abolish the sentencing of children to death”
12th October 2021 UN human rights experts
Despite the international outcry and appeals to suspend his death sentence, Arman Abdolali was executed by hanging on the 26th November.
Rising opposition in the death penalty of juveniles
“Despite repeated interventions and engagement by my own Office with the Government of Iran on this issue, the sentencing and executions of child offenders continue. This is both regrettable and, given the clear illegality of these actions, reprehensible”.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
There is increasing evidence to show that there is an upward trend in opposition within Iran towards the practice of capital punishment against young offenders. A survey, conducted from the 3rd to 11th September 2020, which includes responses from about 20,000 people living in Iran by IHR reveals that more than 85% of Iranians oppose the death penalty for crimes for juvenile offenders. This contrasts Iranian authorities claims that the death penalty has the support of the people.
A just ruling body would not impose and authorize a brutal, degrading punishment like the death penalty. It is a blatant reflection of society’s current monopoly on violence and exposes their alarming perspective on the way to preserve moral order. The universal and fundamental human right in that ‘every individual deserves the right to live’ begs the question as to why this practice is still relevant to this day.