GENEVA - The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is urging Iran to stop the execution of a man who was a juvenile when sentenced in 2012.
Sajad Sanjari was 15 years old when an Iranian court sentenced him to death for fatally stabbing a man. In 2014, he was granted a retrial under a new Islamic Penal Code, but the following year, a provincial criminal court rejected his argument that he acted in self-defense against a would-be rapist.
The court confirmed the death sentence, saying Sanjari was mature enough to understand the nature of his crime. This ruling was upheld by Iran's Supreme Court last year.
A spokesman for the human rights office, Rupert Colville, says Iran is one of a few countries that still executes juvenile offenders. He says the use of capital punishment on anyone under the age of 18 is a violation of international human rights law.
"At least five juveniles were reportedly executed in Iran last year,” Colville said, “and at least 78 people reportedly remain on death row for crimes they committed when they were under 18, although the actual figure may be much higher than that."
The number of executions in Iran is difficult to pin down, Colville tells VOA, because of the opaque system of government.
"According to various NGO [non-governmental organization] sources, the number of people executed in 2016, last year, was over 500 — 530 according to some,” Colville said. “The vast majority is said to be for drug offenses."
Under international law, the death penalty may be imposed only for the most serious crimes — those involving intentional killing. Human rights experts say drug-related offenses do not meet that bar.
The United Nations is calling for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty in Iran because of the high number of executions and concerns that defendants do not receive fair trials.