The Iranian judicial system is viewed by many as one of the most brutal. It executes more people than any other country worldwide. In this Middle-Eastern country, a death sentence is legal for various crimes such as paedophilia, armed robbery and homosexuality.
Crimes Punishable By Death
Like many Muslim countries, Iran is subject to Sharia law, although many laws are borrowed from the civil laws that existed before the Iranian revolution in 1979. The United Nations Human Rights Committee states that in countries where the death penalty is not abolished, courts must only implement it for the most serious crimes.
Several human rights groups have called for the abolition of the death penalty in Iran. In Muslim countries, two types of sentences warrant capital punishment: a retribution sentence and a regular death sentence. The first is when a murder victim’s family doesn’t want to forgive the murderer, resulting in their execution. The regular death sentence is for a variety of capital crimes like armed robbery, sexual crimes, kidnapping, terrorism, espionage, treason and drug trafficking.
Up until 2017, drug-related crimes accounted for most of the executions in Iran. In murder and rape cases, the perpetrator can seek the forgiveness of the victim’s family, and if granted, they can be saved from death. There have been cases where the victim’s family forgave the murderer moments before being hanged.
A convicted felon can appeal a death sentence an unlimited number of times in the Iranian Supreme Court of Cassation. If the Supreme court denies the sentence, the case will be retried. Otherwise, the case is affirmed, and the guilty party is executed.
Because most death penalty cases in this Muslim country are unreported, it is estimated that thousands of children have been executed for committing capital crimes. This has been causing a lot of stir in human rights groups worldwide. They have been demanding radical changes in this aspect of capital punishment in Muslim countries.
The definition of a “minor” in Muslim and non-Muslim countries is different. For example, for a long time, Article 49 of the Iranian Islamic Penal Code stipulated that a child is anyone who has not grown into adolescence – 15 years for boys and 9 years for girls. This was changed in 2012 when the regime passed a new penal code that got rid of the death penalty for people under the age of 18.
Muslim countries use the Islamic lunar calendar to determine a person’s age. It is shorter than the normal calender the rest of the world uses. Therefore, a child executed at the age of 18 would actually be 17 years old according to the standard solar calendar. Minors are normally tried and sentenced in a juvenile court. Also, in some special cases, the judge is allowed to sentence an execution for minors deemed “mentally mature” and “committed well-thought-out crimes”.
Iran is signed to both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Now, most convicted child offenders are imprisoned until they reach 18 years old when they are executed.
Where Executions Are Done
Convicted criminals are usually executed in prisons, although by law, they must take place in public. Most of the time, the criminals are executed in the province where the crime was committed and in front of witnesses. Drug offenders and notorious criminals are sent to large, centralised prisons like Vakilabad Prison located in Mashhad and Evin in Tehran.
The Iranian government banned public executions for less serious cases in 2008. In serious cases like child rape, gang rape, large-scale drug trafficking, and serial killing, the perpetrator is executed in public. Sometimes criminals are killed at the exact spot where they committed the crime.
Methods of Execution
Execution is mainly done through hanging. Prison gallows are usually located in a special courtyard or indoor sheds. The firing squad is seldom used but is legal for people convicted of crimes against the state. Criminals convicted of adultery and other related crimes are sometimes stoned, though it is unclear whether this is in line with Iranian laws. Some homosexual convicts are also pushed from cliffs as a method of execution.
A few days before the execution, the condemned is informed and transferred to solitary confinement. Usually, the prisoner is allowed to see his family one last time before execution. Sometimes, the executioners may not inform the criminal’s family until after the execution. In restitution cases, the victim’s family must attend the execution in case there is a possibility of the condemned being forgiven at the last minute. Executions are carried out at 4 AM before the call to morning prayers.
The Iranian death penalty is controversial, especially for non-violent crimes like homosexuality. There are numerous international campaigns by leaders like Maryam Rajavi, who have personally experienced the cruelty of the death penalty – her sister and brother-in-law were executed in circumstances that seemed unfair. Maryam had a major influence in the student-led anti-Shah movements which saw the overthrow of a corrupt and dictatorship regime.