International human rights law has long prohibited the use of the death penalty against people who were younger than age eighteen at the time of the offense. When the United States, as pointed out by some Supreme Court Justices in Roper v. Simmons (2005), was virtually alone in the world in allowing juvenile offenders to be executed, it changed its laws nationwide whereby those under the age of eighteen are to be treated as children and consequently could not be sentenced to death for crimes in states that still maintain capital punishment.
While one may think such norms are universally observed, not so much in the Muslim world. In fact, very few of us have heard of the death sentences against juveniles in the Islamic world. all know of the manner in which the Sentencing juveniles to death a young man who was arrested at the age of thirteen for participating in anti-government protests, said Amnesty International today.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has a chilling track record of using the death penalty as a weapon to crush political dissent and punish anti-government protesters — including children — from the country’s persecuted Shi’a minority.
Human rights groups have been petitioning the scheduled death penalty for Murtaja Qureiris — now nineteen — in August 2018 for a series of offenses, some of which date back to when he was just ten years old. His crimes were throwing Molotov cocktails at a police facility in the eastern Saudi city of Awamiya, as part of an anti-government protest, and for attending the funeral of his brother Ali Qureiris who was killed in a protest in 2011. Murtaja was eventually arrested at the age of thirteen when he took part in Shia-led protests. After solitary confinement, he was charged joining a “terror group” and “sowing sedition.”
The same can be said of Ali al-Nimr who at the age of seventeen arrested on February 14, 2012, a few months after taking part in a pro-democracy rally in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to death, despite being a minor when he was arrested and following a deeply unfair trial based on “confessions” he says were obtained through torture. He was sentenced to death in May 2014, and, awaited ratification of his sentence by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, to be carried out by beheading and crucifixion (in that order). Saudi Arabia has admitted to the UN in writing that it sentences children to death, despite denying the accusation in oral evidence to the body’s child rights committee.
The Saudi delegation to the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child said in 2016, in a live webcast, that “the crime must have been committed by a perpetrator who is an adult at the time in order for them to be sentenced to capital punishment.” According to the delegation’s oral evidence, “the age of liability is always 18” in Saudi Arabia. However, in written evidence to the same committee, the Saudi delegation confirmed that children as young as fifteen can be sentenced to death in the kingdom while illegal under international law.
Naturally, the Saudis, as faithful Muslims and in adherence to their Wahhabi observation, literally follow the Prophet Muhammad’s orders: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides…” – Sura 5, 33
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, some of the children who have been put to death were as young as twelve. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, recently pointed to the alarming issue of executions of children and adolescents: “In 2018, there were seven reported cases of executions of child offenders. Among the most recent cases, on 25 April 2019, two 17-year-old children, Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat, were executed in Adilabad prison in Shiraz, Fars Province. The two were reportedly forced to confess under torture.”
Amnesty International is claiming the pair — both arrested for “rape charges” when they were fifteen-years-old — endured “unfair trials” that doomed them. Two seventeen-year-old boys, who apparently did not even did not even know about their death sentences, were flogged before being executed. The Iranian authorities did not even inform the children’s families about their executions in advance. Later, Iran’s Legal Medicine Organization told the families to come and collect their bodies.
It is worth noting, as Iranian journalist and author, Amir Taheri explains,that due to the lack of transparency, the official number of children being executed under the Islamic rule of Iran is believed to be higher. As Amnesty International acknowledged: “We have the details of 49 people on Iran’s death row who were under eighteen at the time of the crime they are alleged to have committed. The UN says there are at least 160 such people facing execution in the country. In fact, there are likely to be many more young offenders on Iranian death rows, as use of capital punishment in Iran is often shrouded in secrecy.”
The Islamic Republic’s Penal Code allows executions to be carried out by many different methods, such as hanging, stoning, and firing squad. It also allows girls as young as nine and boys as young as fifteen to be executed. Vague charges are generally brought up by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary system or the Revolutionary Court, such as “waging war against God” (spreading moharebeh, “corruption on earth”), protesting, or “endangering the country’s national security.” These charges can be stretched to allow for supposedly lesser acts, such as criticizing the Supreme Leader, to become crimes, so an order of execution can be carried out.
As can be fathomed, this is part of sharia law as demanded by the Prophet Muhammad in Shi’ite tradition: “Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq has said: “If needed, don’t inflict more than five or six blows to your child or the servant and these blows should not be too severe.” While reprimanding children, better don’t do it in the presence of others.”
I am not contesting a nation’s law to use of capital punishment in order to defend itself, especially with captured terrorists. However, one thing is to execute an adult, another is a juvenile, especially when his or her confession to the charged crime — putting aside the inhumane accusation of “sowing sedition” when one is seeking democracy — is obtained through torture.