Such executions are categorically banned by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iran is a signatory to both of these documents, but the judiciary and the Iranian regime as a whole have routinely rejected key provisions, including the ban on juvenile executions, while insisting that international human rights standards are often examples of cultural imperialism.
Despite such talking points, the regime has occasionally showed sensitivity to widespread international condemnation of juvenile executions and other clear instances of prisoner abuse. However, these sorts of death sentences are rarely overturned, even when they are delayed and placed under review. The judiciary has a long history of affirming the supposed intellectual and emotional maturity of people who allegedly committed capital offenses when they were young teenagers. Iranian law sets the age of legal majority at 13 for boys and only 9 for girls.
International outcry over death sentences for juvenile offenders was credited with bringing about case reviews as recently as last year. But at the beginning of 2018, human rights organizations warned that the pace of implementation for such sentences was actually accelerating, with three taking place in the month of January alone.
That pace did not continue, however, and only two other juvenile offenders were known to have been put to death prior to last month, although executions are often not officially recorded by the regime, leaving domestic human rights activists to reveal more complete numbers over time.
Indeed, the report issued by Iran Human Rights on Monday indicated that the most recently reported juvenile execution actually took place on November 14. The identity of this individual, Omid Rostami, initially went unnoticed in part because he was only one of 10 prisoners to be executed on that same day in Rajai Shahr Prison.
Now that new details have been revealed, it has been reported that this was Rostami’s fifth trip to the gallows for a murder that he allegedly committed only two days after his 16th birthday. Many death row prisoners in Iran have reported being taken to solitary confinement in preparation for their executions, only to then be returned to their cells, adding an element of uncertainty and psychological torture to their ordeal.
Iran Human Rights explained one contributing factor in this phenomenon, noting that the family of Rostami’s victim had repeatedly requested more time to reconsider whether to grant him reprieve, as is their right under the principle of Islamic jurisprudence known as qisas.
This feature of the Iranian criminal justice system also allows a victim’s family to set an amount of blood money, or diyeh, to be paid in order to spare the convict from execution. In the case of another juvenile offender, Milad Azimi, this figure was set as the equivalent of 50,000 dollars.
Iran Human Rights reported on Tuesday that his family is unlikely to be able to raise this amount of money, making poverty an imminent determining factor in the young man’s death, while indecision was a determining factor in Rostami’s.
According to Rostami’s mother, “On September 4, 2018, the prosecutor told the plaintiffs that they have the maximum of one month time to take their final decision to forgive Omid or carry out his execution. Otherwise, Omid should be released on bail.” Facing this pressure, the family finally visited the prison to see the sentence carried out on November 14.
The prosecutor’s instructions to the family arguably help to paint the picture of a judiciary that is committed to maintaining its world-leading rate of executions along with the practice of juvenile executions.
And this picture is further clarified by the judiciary’s failure to take steps that might have allowed a legal alternative to Rostami’s execution. Under an amendment to Iran’s Islamic Penal Code put into effect in 2013, a judge may vacate the death sentence for a young offender who was unable to fully understand the consequences of his or her actions. Not only was this option refused in the given case, but the judge denied the Rostami family’s request for a forensic examination to determine Omid’s level of psychological development.
The same issue hangs over another juvenile death sentence, which may be the next to be implemented now that it has been upheld by the Iranian Supreme Court. On Sunday, Iran Human Rights reported upon the case of Seyed Danial Zeinol-Abedini, who allegedly committed murder at the age of 17 in September of last year. Given that his case was so recent, it was fully subject to the New Islamic Penal Code, and yet his lawyer complains that the defendant was never sent to forensics as is required for the court to make a determination of his maturity.
There is little chance of the attorney’s argument holding sway over the judiciary now that the death sentence has been upheld by the highest court. But in the case of Omid Rostami, no lawyer was even present to argue his case prior to the death sentence being carried out.
This, of course, casts serious doubt upon the fairness of his case even under the outmoded and non-amended principles of the Islamic Penal Code. And it is indicative of a problem that has serious bearing on other capital cases besides those involving juvenile offenders.
Iran Human Rights Monitor called attention to two such cases last week. In the first place, it reported that the judiciary had issued and carried out a sentence of hanging while ignoring clear signs of the defendant’s mental illness.
The individual in question, barely more than 18 years old himself, had been hospitalized only days before committing the murder for which he was very promptly executed. IHRM adds: “The execution of this convict and all other judiciary processes were carried out in less than 10 months, raising concern over lack of sufficient due process.”
In another recent case, the hanging was carried out for a convicted murderer who claimed diminished responsibility because his victim was an Islamic cleric who had subjected him to sexual abuse over several years, beginning when he was 14 years old.
According to Iran Human Rights, far from being regarded as a mitigating factor in the case, the victim’s identity only accelerated the conviction and further erased the appearance of due process.
The man’s father was quoted as saying, “We did not have a chance to prove [the abuse] in the court, because the victim was a clergyman and he had an influential family.
Everything was for them and the court did not listen to us… Finally, the judge issued the death sentence in three or four months and then the Supreme Court upheld the verdict.”