I have been following Iranian human rights violations since August 2005, when I picked up my city newspaper and was confronted by an article detailing the graphic executions of two young Iranian boys, both minors (under the age of 18, according to the United Nations) at the time of their deaths.
The more research I carried out, the more information I uncovered about child executions in Iran, and the country’s policies (or lack thereof) pertaining to the death penalty for child offenders. According to Amnesty International, Iran is the world’s last official executioner of child offenders and holds the distinction of executing more child offenders (many imprisoned until their 18th birthdays, and executed shortly thereafter) than any other country in the world since 1990.
In 2005, I wrote my first letter to the Iranian Embassy in Canada urging them to implement legislation banning the death penalty for child offenders regardless of their alleged offenses. My pleas went unacknowledged.
In 2007, after an unsuccessful first attempt, I once again tried appealing to Iran’s sense of international obligation. The country had signed both Article 6.5 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) stating that, “Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age,” and Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), stating that, “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”
In light of these legal agreements, I requested that Iran halt pending executions against child offenders and take immediate measures to permanently abolish capital punishment for all child offenders in accordance with their obligations to the ICCPR and the CRC.
To this day, there remains an exhaustive list of the child offenders on Iran’s death row, awaiting their ill fates.
One might think that, after reading the aforementioned, the reality for many young Iranians could not possibly get any worse; sadly, the reality is a far more disturbing one for young Iranian women. The Iranian Penal Code interprets Sharia law in a way that says a woman’s life is worth half that of a man’s. Under Sharia law, a girl is considered an adult at the age of nine and she is held legally accountable for her actions. Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi, a minor “offender” who had been on death row for killing a man who tried to rape her, is one young Iranian woman who understands this reality all too well.
On January 3, 2006, Nazanin was sentenced to death for murder after she stabbed one of three men who attempted to rape her and her niece in a park in a Tehran suburb. At the time of the incident, Nazanin was only 17 years old.
Her case and its injustice, although not unique by Iranian standards, made international headlines and an outpouring of support and petitions followed suit. The Help Nazanin Campaign reached millions worldwide, and over 345,000 signatures were collected and delivered to the United Nations and Iranian Officials. Collectively, Amnesty International, Canadian Members of Parliament, the European Union, and the United Nations put pressure on Iranian Officials to spare the life of this young woman.
In response to pressure from the international community, on June 1st, 2006, the Head of Judiciary Ayatollah Shahroudi announced a stay of execution and the call for a retrial. During the new trial on January 10th, 2007, the five judges presiding over the case found inconsistencies with the testimonies of the male witnesses and unanimously ruled out premeditated murder and determined that the act was a case of self-defense. On January 31st, 2007, Nazanin was exonerated from the charge of murder, released from prison and the threat of execution, and reunited with her family.
While this particular case may have ended with a positive outcome, the price for Nazanin’s freedom was a high one. Although two judges asked for her unconditional freedom, three judges ruled that disproportionate force was used and requested her to pay "diyeh" (blood money) of US$43,000 to compensate the family of the deceased. Once more, the international community was called upon for their support (this time fiscally) when Nazanin’s poor family was unable to meet this exorbitant monetary demand.
This perpetual cycle of child executions and the devaluing of women in Iran cannot continue; we are paying an international price that we cannot afford to overlook. Too many innocent and undeserving young Iranians have fallen victim to a system that appears to value death over life, and too many young women are being criminalized for protecting themselves against would-be perpetrators. It is high time that we banned together with the young women of Iran to say “enough is enough”; as evidence shows, with our international collective of voices and words, we can save lives.