Despite Reforms, 160 Juveniles Languish on Death Row in Iran: Amnesty

A new Amnesty International report found that 160 juvenile offenders are on death row in Iran and more than 70 juveniles have been executed in the country between 2005 and 2015. An Iranian woman walks past a revolutionary mural in Tehran, Iran, January 17. Raheb Homavandi/Reuters/TIMA

More than 160 juveniles are on death row in Iran and scores have been executed over the past decade for crimes allegedly committed when they were under the age of 18, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Iran is one of the last countries in the world that executes juvenile offenders, according to the London-based human rights group. Between 2005 and 2015, 73 juveniles were executed in Iran, the report said, although the actual number is likely much higher as execution data in Iran is shrouded in secrecy.

Iran is among the countries—along with China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States—that carry out the largest numbers of executions in the world: In 2014, 289 known executions occurred there, according to Amnesty. The number of executions in 2015 is not known, but Human Rights Watch in October estimated Iran was on track to execute as many as 1,000 people.

The report, published Tuesday, includes details of recent executions of juveniles by Iran. Fatemeh Salbehi, 16, was executed in October for murdering the man she was forced to marry at 16. Her psychological assessment included questions about whether she prayed and studied religious textbooks, said Amnesty.

"This report sheds light on Iran's shameful disregard for the rights of children. Iran is one of the few countries that continues to execute juvenile offenders in blatant violation of the absolute legal prohibition on the use of the death penalty against people under the age of 18 years at the time of the crime," said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program.

"Despite some juvenile justice reforms, Iran continues to lag behind the rest of the world, maintaining laws that permit girls as young as 9 and boys as young as 15 to be sentenced to death."

Iran is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a United Nations treaty that abolishes the use of the death penalty or life imprisonment for those under 18. (The U.S. and Somalia are the only two countries that have not signed the CRC.) Under the treaty, everyone under the age of 18 should be treated as a child.

In a 2013 change to Iran's Islamic Penal Code, judges were allowed to replace the death penalty with other punishment based on the juvenile's mental state and maturity at the time of the offense. In June, further reforms stipulated that juveniles accused of crimes should be dealt with by specialized juvenile courts instead of adult courts.

Despite reforms, 49 juvenile offenders remain at risk of being executed in Iran, with the majority having spent an average of seven years on death row, according to the report. Some had spent more than a decade on death row for their alleged juvenile crimes, and in many cases forced confessions were extracted through torture or abuse, says Amnesty.

Newsweek requested comment from the Iranian Mission to the U.N. but one was not offered in time for publication.