NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 1, 2009

As Iranians prepare to elect their next president on June 12, a range of civil-liberties issues -- from juvenile executions to the freedom to blog -- have become hot topics.  Ending a period of relative openness, the government has pursued a clampdown on dissidents, human-rights activists, journalists and students, the likes of which hasn't been seen here in decades, says the Wall Street Journal.

In June's vote, all three of the major candidates seeking to unseat President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- two reformists, and one conservative -- have criticized his government for its lack of tolerance.  Each has promised more personal and social freedom if elected.

Iran's use of the death penalty in juvenile cases has become particularly controversial, largely due to efforts by lawyer Mohamad Mostafaei who represents 30 of the 135 criminals under the age of 18 on Iran's death row:  

  • The past two years, Iran led the world with a total of 28 hangings of youth offenders.
  • Iran's constitution stipulates that the age of maturity for boys is 15, and for girls, 9 -- the ages at which Islamic law calls for children to take on religious duties such as prayer and fasting; executions aren't carried out until the person reaches 18.

In contrast:

  • Some other Islamic countries also have juveniles on death row, but executions are rarer; according to Human Rights Watch, since January 2005, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen have carried out a total of six juvenile executions.
  • In some U.S. states, death penalties for crimes committed by juveniles over the age of 15 remained legal until 2005, when the Supreme Court said the punishment should be reserved for individuals who had committed their crimes after reaching the age of 18; that ruling ended a 29-year era in which the United States executed 22 people for crimes committed as juveniles.

Iran's Parliament, under intense pressure from local activists and international human-rights groups alike, recently approved legislation to make it tougher -- although not impossible in murder cases -- to sentence juveniles to death.  The legislation, must still win the approval of the Guardian Council, a conservative committee of clerics, to become law.

Mostafaei and others want Iran to ban juvenile executions altogether by changing the age of maturity to 18, where it stood before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Source: Farnaz Fassihi, "Debate Over Child Executions Roils Iran's Presidential Vote," Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2009.


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