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International community speaks out on hangings in Iran

Outrage is mounting over the execution

International outrage is mounting over the execution of two teenage boys in Iran on Jul 19.

Iran has violated international law, says the independent nongovernmental group Human Rights Watch (HRW), noting in letters sent Jul 27 to Iran’s president and head of judiciary that Iran has ratified two treaties that prevent the execution of minors.

Two youths, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were put to death on Jul 19 after they were found guilty of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy some 14 months earlier. Media reports on the boys’ ages at the time of the hanging vary from 17 to 19, but that the two boys were held in prison for close to 14 months before their execution, one both were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offence. And Iranian and gay rights activists believe the rape charges might have been trumped up to gain public sympathy for the death sentences and to avoid international criticism.

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“Death is an inhumane punishment, particularly for someone under 18 at the time of his crimes,” wrote Hadi Ghaemi, the group’s Iran researcher. “All but a handful of countries forbid such executions. Iran should as well.”

The Convention On The Rights Of The Child and the International Covenant On Civil And Political Rights both prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18. Iran has ratified both treaties.

These treaties also prohibit the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.

“The judiciary has trampled its own laws,” says Rohollah Razaz Zadeh, the lawyer for one of the executed teens, noting Iranian courts are supposed to commute death sentences handed to children to five years in jail.

The European Union issued on Jul 26 a statement condemning the hangings and called on the Iranian government to immediately cease such executions.

And the International Lesbian And Gay Association (ILGA) has vowed to pursue the matter to the highest level, including the United Nations.

“To execute people simply because they are gay or have had gay sex just isn’t acceptable in the 21st century,” says Kursad Kahramananoglu, head of ILGA.

On Jul 23, Iran’s Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi condemned the hangings and Iran’s violations of it obligations under the International Convention On The Rights Of The Child.

“My calls for a law banning execution of under-18s have fallen on deaf ears so far but I will not give up the fight,” Ebadi told reporters.

Ebadi says her Center For The Protection Of Human Rights will intensify its fight against the executions of minors in Iran.

Human Rights Watch says Iran is thought to have executed at least four other juvenile offenders in 2004, and at least 30 juvenile offenders are on the country’s death row. It has confirmed the names and ages at the time of offense of five juvenile offenders under sentence of death in Iran: Milad Bakhtiari, 17; Hussein Haghi, 16; Hussein Taranj, 17; Farshad Saeedi, 17; and, Saeed Khorrami, 16.

Meanwhile, the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) issued a statement charging the execution of gays in Iran might be part of the government ethnic repression.

“The execution of two young men in Iran for the alleged rape of a 13 year old boy could be an attempt by the regime to smear and terrorise the indigenous Ahwazi Arab population of Khuzestan,” says the BAFS statement,
noting the two teens were repeatedly identified in Iranian media as being from the Khuzestan region.

“Similar executions took place in May when three indigenous Ahwazi Arab men were executed in Susangerd, Khuzestan, for the alleged rape and murder of a six year old. In each case, the men’s names were continually repeated in the Iranian press, to highlight their Arab identity,” says BAFS.

Human Rights Watch says elsewhere in the world, only China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and the United States are known to have put juvenile offenders to death in the past five years.

The group says the US executed nine juvenile offenders during this period; the other countries are each known to have put one juvenile offender to death.

The US Supreme Court declared the juvenile death penalty unconstitutional in March 2005.

In Washington, DC, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) issued a letter to Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice on Jul 22, calling on Rice to condemn the executions “swiftly and forcefully.”