On 1 May 2009, Delara Darabi, aged 22, was hanged in Rasht Prison, northern Iran. She had been sentenced to death for a murder that she had confessed to protect her boyfriend, but later denied. She was 17 years old at the time. The day before her execution, Delara Darabi’s mother visited her in prison. Delara told her “If I come out of prison, I want to continue my education. I would like to be free. One of the judges promised that I would be pardoned.” The Darabi family rushed to the prison when the young woman called them to announce her imminent execution, but were denied a final meeting with her. Whilst they were standing outside the prison, their daughter was executed. Delara Darabi’s parents informed her lawyers of her death.
Iran has executed at least 44 alleged juvenile offenders since 1990, eight of them in 2008, and at least three in 2009. There are at least 137 juvenile offenders on death row in Iran. In many cases, child offenders under sentence of death are kept in prison until they reach 18, but some children have been put to death even before that age.
The execution of juvenile offenders is prohibited under international law, as stated in Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights : “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 : “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without the possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.”.
Iran is a state party to both treaties. However, it holds the macabre distinction of having executed more child offenders since 1990 than any other country in the world. China outlawed the execution of child offenders in 1997, and the USA in 2005.
Over recent years, a growing reaction to the Iranian authorities’ shameful record has emerged within Iran, a movement driven by courageous human rights defenders, including lawyers, journalists and children’s rights activists, who are pushing for abolition of the death penalty for child offenders. Those activists have represented the youth facing the death penalty and prevented some executions. They have highlighted miscarriages of justice and campaigned for a legal reform to ban the execution of juvenile offenders. Many of these militants have been threatened and harassed by the authorities, or prevented from travelling out of the country.
ACAT opposes the death penalty unreservedly for anyone, regardless of their age and regardless of the nature of the crime or the character of the condemned. Every execution is an affront to human dignity and a human rights violation of premeditated cruelty. Ending executions of child offenders in Iran and the rest of the world is just one major step on the road to total abolition.