The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner released an international condemnation of human rights violations in Iran, most notably the anticipated execution of a juvenile offender. The condemnation was released as part of the weekly report on human rights in Iran.
“We are deeply concerned that the life of a juvenile offender remains in danger and that he may be executed at any moment,” said the experts, Asma Jahangir, Special Reporter on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran; Agnes Callamard, Special Reporter on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Benyam Dawit Mezmur, the Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The known details are that the offender is 15 years old and was sentenced to death in 2012 for stabbing a man. In February 2014, the offender was granted a new trial under the 2013 Islamic Penal Code juvenile sentencing provisions. In June 2015, the Provincial Criminal Court of Kermanshah Province confirmed his death sentence, finding that at the time of the crime’s commission, he was mature enough to understand the nature of his crime. This also meant the court rejected his argument of self-defense following a rape attempt. The sentence was upheld again in August 2016 by Iran’s Supreme Court.
Iran remains one of several states that execute juvenile offenders. This is despite the prohibition of such executions under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iran is a party to both of these agreements. Several other juveniles were retried under the revised juvenile sentencing guidelines and they have all been found mature enough to be sentenced to death. Fifteen other juveniles were reportedly sentenced to death for the first time under these new guidelines.
“The Iranian authorities must immediately halt the execution of this juvenile and annul the death sentence against him in compliance with international standards for the imposition of this form of punishment,” the experts stressed in their report. Additionally, they pointed out that “Iran must observe its international obligations by putting an end to the execution of juvenile offenders once and for all.”
At least five juvenile offenders were executed in 2016 and, to date, more than 78 juveniles are reported to be on death row. However, the experts note in their report that the figure could be much higher. “Under international law, countries which have retained the death penalty may only impose it for the most serious crimes, that is, those involving intentional killing. Drug related offences do not meet this threshold,” said the experts.
Additionally, on Saturday, January 14, 2017, Iran reportedly executed 16 alleged drug offenders. “Moreover, information we received show that the trials of some of these people, were marred by violations of due process guarantees and that the proceedings fell short of international fair trial standards,” said the experts.
Over the past two years, more than 1,000 people have reportedly been executed for drug-related offences in Iran and currently some 5,000 people are reported to be on death row for drug offences.
“Any death sentence undertaken in contravention of a Government’s international obligations is unlawful and tantamount to an arbitrary execution,” said the experts. “Until the death penalty for drug-related offences is abolished in Iran, a moratorium on these executions should be instituted and all scheduled executions for drug-related offences halted.”
It has also been noted that human rights defenders in Iran are being targeted for campaigning against the death penalty. Several anti-death penalty activists were sentenced to long prison terms in 2016.
The Iranian regime responded by focusing on political prisoner’s hunger strike and how highlighting that is considered a crime. Iran’s Head of Judiciary described the reporting and highlighting of such issues as “a criminal act” and called on the judicial authorities not to be influenced by what he referred to as “the media created climate”.
“I am addressing all respected judicial authorities that if, following such pressures, you take the smallest step backward, they will conclude that they can force the judiciary to retreat by such media pressures, which will definitely encourage them to carry out more attacks,” said Mohammad-Javad Amoli Larijani, Head of Judiciary.
Multiple executions have also been reportedly done at various prisons throughout Iran in just the first few weeks of 2017. According to Mehr News, for example, two prisoners were hanged on drug-related charges. Both prisoners had been accused of possession and trafficking. Some of the executions are being carried out, despite the fact that the prisoners’ cases are under review and, in some cases, without the knowledge of their families.
Amnesty International reported that Iran’s persistent use of cruel and inhuman punishments, including floggings, amputations and forced blinging over the past year, exposes the authorities’ brutal sense of justice. Hundreds are flogged in Iran annually, and sometimes these floggings occur in public.
“The authorities’ prolific use of corporal punishment, including flogging, amputation and blinding, throughout 2016 highlights the inhumanity of a justice system that legalizes brutality. These cruel and inhuman punishments are a shocking assault on human dignity and violate the absolute international prohibition on torture and other ill treatment,” said Randa Habib, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
On January 5, 2017, a journalist was lashed 40 times in Najaf Abad, Esfahan Province, after a court found him guilty of inaccurately reporting the number of motorcycles confiscated by the police in the city.
“The latest flogging of a journalist raises alarms that the authorities intend to continue the spree of cruel punishments we have witnessed over the past year into 2017,” said Habib.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Iran is legally obliged to forbid torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Iranian law, however, continues to allow these activities, despite their international ban, under the justification of religious morals.
Many of those flogged in Iran are young people under the age of 35 who have been arrested for publicly eating during Ramadan, having relationships outside of marriage and attending mixed-gender parties. Such activities fall under the rights to freedom of belief, religion, expression and association and cannot be criminalized, according to Amnesty International.
Journalists and bloggers have also been sentenced to flogging in relation to their work, highlighting another group that is being targeted by the regime. The popular Iranian Facebook pag “Azadihayeh Yavashaki” (My Stealthy Freedom) has posted detailed accounts from several women who received lashes for drinking alcohol and attending mixed-gender parties that were raided by the Iranian morality police. The accounts feature photos of the women’s injuries as a result of the lashings.
Amnesty International has also recorded an incident in November 2016 where a man was forcibly blinded in retribution for blinding a four-year-old girl during an acid attack. Doctors from the Legal Medicine Organization of Iran provide the Supreme Court with advice on whether a blinding sentence is medically feasible and how to carry it out. This is a severe breach of their medical ethics.
“Medical professionals have a clear duty to avoid any involvement in acts of torture and other ill-treatment. Rather than aiding and abetting acts of torture by providing pre-blinding medical assessments, doctors in Iran should refuse to participate in such calculated cruelty,” said Habib.
For those who are sentenced to prison, the conditions are not much better. A letter from human rights defender Saeed Shirzad to judicial officials at the start of his latest hunger strike listed multiple issues within the prisons, including denial medical care, beatings, degrading treatment of inmates and their families by officials, and poor air circulation due to the fact that in some sections, windows are covered by metal sheets. Degrading treatment by officials includes invasive and abusive body searches of prisoners and their families during visits.
Reports from Karaj’s Raja’I Shahr Prison also indicate a pattern of guards beating, verbally assaulting and sexually harassing political prisoners, particularly during transfers to and from the hospital and court.
Amnesty International is encouraging individuals to write officials in their countries, as well as Iranian authorities regarding these human rights violations, particularly in the cases of activists who have consistently been denied medical care and intimidated to extract confessions. Members of ethnic or religious minorities who engage in criticism of the government are singled out by the Judiciary for harsh treatment. There is also a well-documented record of these minority activists disproportionately receiving capital punishment from the Judiciary.
Throughout this report, it is clear that human rights violations continue unabated in Iran, despite international scrutiny, treaties and international law. Calls for the Iranian regime to make changes and stop the mistreatment and executions have been ignored, as Iran continues business as usual into the new year.