Iranians renege on commitment to end juvenile death penalty

October 21, 2008

Image of a shadow of a noose hanging on a cracked wall

Reprieve is deeply disappointed by Iran’s apparent backtracking on its decision to abolish the juvenile death penalty.

On October 15th, a senior Iranian judiciary official issued a directive which would have saved the lives of 130 juveniles awaiting execution in Iran, by commuting their sentences to life imprisonment. It has since emerged however, that the directive, in fact, will have a negligible impact on Iran’s current executions. In a statement on October 18th, the Deputy for Judicial Affairs to Iran’s Prosecutor General, Hussein Zebhi, made it clear the directive would only apply to narcotics offences, and not to murder. Since no juvenile has ever been executed for a drug-related crime, the directive cannot be considered a serious attempt to curb executions in Iran.

Zebhi said that in murder cases “we can’t deny a victim’s family of the legal right to ask for Islamic qisas, or eye for eye retribution”. This directly contradicts the earlier announcement that it would apply to all offenders under 18 “no matter what the offence”.

Iran is currently one of only four states which execute juveniles – the others being Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Since January 2005, Iran has been responsible for 26 of the 32 known juvenile executions, with six juveniles already having been executed this year. In 2005, Iran caused an international outcry when it executed two teenage boys for ‘homosexual conduct’; the boys were also given 228 lashes before they were hanged.

Iran executed at least 355 people in 2007.

Crimes which carry the death penalty include adultery, prostitution and homosexuality. Since the Ayatollah came to power in 1979, Iran has executed an estimated 100,000 people. Eleven people, nine of them women, are currently awaiting execution by stoning.

Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, said “This whole farce is little more than a pointless PR stunt which will have absolutely no impact on the 130 children currently sentenced to death in Iran. The international community has a moral obligation to condemn Iran’s continuing use of the death penalty on children, and should not consider the recent announcement as anything other than a waste of paper.”


For further information, please contact Reprieve’s Press Office on 020 7427 1099 or email:

Note for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.

Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves:

• representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.

• working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty.

• conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secretdetention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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