The Paradox of Executing Juveniles


The Paradox of Executing Juveniles
by SCE Campaign

Source: Asieh Amini - 2008.10.26  published in Roozonline


Last week, two comments from the same senior judiciary official in Iran over the executions of juveniles prompted a new controversy in the country’s media. Initially, the deputy prosecutor for judiciary affairs of Iran said no death sentences would be passed for individuals under the age of 18. Three days later, he said what he had meant was not that the implementation of Ghesas (punishment in kind), the punishment of death for those who had committed a murder as requested by the victim’s family, for individuals under 18 should be stopped.

This difference in view is because of the two different interpretations that exist for the concept of Ghesas among experts and among laymen. In Islam, Ghesas is not defined as a "public right" which is why the relatives of a murder victim have the right to request that the death penalty be implemented or not implemented for the perpetrator of the murder. The death penalty, on the other hand, is a public right, and not a part of private rights.

This distinction had also been made early by Dr Alireza Jamshidi, the spokesperson of the judiciary. He had said that there was a difference between the death penalty and Ghesas and said that individuals who were under 18 years of age were not given the death penalty, and that only murderers received the Ghesas punishment. But this statement does not reflect the reality either. Since 2004 there have been at least three cases in which the death penalty was executed on cases that did not involve a murder.

The cases involved a prostitution (as attested by the confessions of the person), a homosexual sex (as confessed by witnesses), and, smuggling of drugs, which was basically ignored by the media. But more importantly, during the last four years (i.e. exactly a year since the first order banning the execution of individuals under 18 years old was issued by the head of Iran’s judiciary) at least two cases of executing Ghesas have been recorded for individuals who were under 18 years of age (Atefeh who was 16 and Mohammad Hassanzadeh who was 17 years old).

With these known cases, the question that is raised is that why is supervision over courts by the judiciary so weak that a violation of the orders of the head of the judiciary and the violations of the express laws in this regard are easily tolerated. Another question that is relevant is that why despite the existence of sufficient evidence regarding judicial violations in the implementation of the death penalty for those less than 18 years old, officials insist on denying the execution of such orders. But most importantly, why do officials use religious and legal terms when talking with people, who are not familiar with these technical terms, thus creating confusion or undue expectations for the relatives and family members of the juveniles. On the first issue, the deputy prosecutor had said that defendants who were under 18 years old would not face the death penalty as the law prescribed, regardless of the crime they had committed. These words had no ifs or buts.

And no specific crimes, committed by people under 18 years of age, such as murder or other crimes with the death penalty as their reprimands, were identified or listed. So despite these remarks, just three days after assurances were provided by the judiciary, the very same judiciary official announced that individuals who had been sentenced for Ghesas, would actually be executed because the decision to execute them or not rested with the relatives of the victim. When something is said in front of the media which lacks any conditions, the conclusion is that is reached is much larger.

The history of issuing circulars in line with human rights, has not been short. We have repeatedly heard from judiciary authorities that the leaders if the judiciary are working to improve laws or to improve the laws. In fact one of the key duties of the Judiciary is to present bills to the government who in turn sends them to executive branch of government after its review. If the law is not modified, then the law may rest in contradiction with other laws. For example in criminal cases where the law allows the judge to monitor the implementation of the sentence from the time the sentence is passed, in fact the order to stay the implementation of a judgment is in contradiction with the law and a judge in such a situation would be in violation of one of the laws, regardless of which he chose to follow. So when there are laws in Iran that allow the execution of a juvenile, prohibiting such executions through circulars or judicial orders issued by the head of the judiciary in fact creates a paradox.



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