TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian rights groups and lawyers have stepped up a campaign against the executions of juvenile offenders, in an effort to save the lives of about 120 people convicted as minors who are now on death row, one of the lawyers behind the push said Wednesday.
Attorney Mohammad Mostafaei said five of the 120 are facing imminent execution for crimes they were convicted of committing as minors.
Iran is the world's biggest executioner of juvenile offenders. While a few other countries still execute minors — including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and Pakistan — Iran has accounted for more than two-thirds of such executions in the past three years, according to international human rights groups.
Mostafaei said the execution of juvenile offenders is a "blatant violation of international law" and a "flagrant breach of Iran's international obligations and commitments."
Iran signed two global conventions specifically banning execution for crimes committed before the age of 18, but "unfortunately, the practice is carried out despite Iran's obligations," he said.
Mostafaei told The Associated Press that he and dozens of other lawyers and activists have written to Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi demanding that execution of juveniles be abolished. There has been no response so far from the authorities.
The activists have also demanded meetings with Iranian judiciary officials and have reached out to media and newspapers to make their voice heard, Mostafaei said. They have also stepped up publishing reports about the status of human rights in Iran, including executions.
Earlier this month, the United Nations criticized Iran for executing juvenile offenders and said the global body was "very concerned and saddened" at reports of executions of minors in the Persian country.
The U.N. specifically condemned the August executions of two juvenile offenders, Reza Hedjazi and Benham Zaare. Hedjazi was believed to be 15 at the time of his alleged crime, and Zaare a year older. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said both were convicted of murder several years ago and that Zaare was 19 when he was executed and Hedjazi about 20. The U.N. believes more than 220 people have been executed in 2008 in Iran so far.
Mostafaei said that at least six minors have been executed in 2008 and that 26 minors have been put to death in Iran since Jan. 2006.
Iranian judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi claimed in June that there are no executions of minors in the country but made a distinction between death sentences and Islamic law of "qisas," or eye-for-eye retributions for murder which he said the judiciary does implement.
According to Jamshidi, in cases of qisas for those under 18 years, "the main approach of the judiciary ... is based on peace and compromise."
Islamic law calls for an attempt first to reach a settlement with the family of a murder victim. If no agreement is reached, the convicted killer is executed.
Mohammad Ali Dadkhah of the Center for Protecting Human Rights said his group has repeatedly reminded Iranian authorities not to execute minors, but to no avail.
The center, led by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, has been banned by the government
"There is no legal and logical justification for execution of minors," Dadkhah said. "The practice portrays an ugly picture of Iran in the world and tramples the rights of minors in the country."