Necessity to Create a Social Demand for...
Supporters of the continuation of the issuing of death sentences to individuals under 18 believe that in Islam, the sentence of Ghesas. Furthermore the opponents of the death penalty also believe that the abolition of the death sentence does not contradict Islamic Sharia Law. In contemporary times some clergy have also moved towards the removal of Ghesas from children, and the basis for the acceptance of this jurisprudence view in the justice system has been more facilitated. The amendment of the Islamic Penal code in 2013 too has left the way open for judges to be able to not use the Ghesas death sentence for individuals under 18 years old.
But it must be noted that opposition to the death sentence in Iran is not top of the list of social demands and public opinion. The raising of public awareness and changes in social demands can also play a highlighted role in this issue most of those that commit murder under the age of 18 and are on death row, have been given the death sentence in cases where there is still a social demand for their execution. Criminals such as Amir Hossein, the killer of Setayesh, who have committed rape and murder, following social demands and insistence of the family and neighbours of the victim and social networks and the general public and at time even the intellectuals the guilty are hanged. To understand this social demand for the death sentence the murder of Setayesh Ghoreishi the six year old Afghan child by Amir Hossein can be pointed out as a case study.
The Social Demand for the Execution of Amir Hossein
The disappearance of Setayesh goes back to the spring of 2017 in the Varamin’s Kheirabad neighbourhood in south-east Tehran. Kheirabad is a suburban neighbourhood of Varamin with a more traditional and mostly Afghan population. The murderer was one of Setayesh’s neighbours called Amir Hossein. At 17 he had committed a number of crimes, child abduction, rape, murder and pouring acid on the corpse of the murdered child. In this crime the victim is a six year old girl and the murderer is a boy who according to international laws is still not of the legal adulthood age.
But following the breaking of the news of the crime, a new wave of social demand entered the social networks in Iran and Afghanistan. For example, the Youth Civil Society Association of Afghanistan warned the Iranian government that if the killer of Setayesh Ghoreishi is not executed soon, they will force the closure of the Iranian embassy in Kabul through civil movements. Soon the hashtag I-Am-Setayesh grew bigger in Iranian and Afghan social networks.
The extensive demand formed from two completely different sides. On one hand the demand was for the severest punishment for the killer and on the other hand the demands of some psychologists and social science researchers was for the need to perform social and mental psychoanalysis.
Amir Hossein’s death sentence was carried out on 4 January 2018 on the insistence of Setayesh’s family. He was kept in the correctional and reform centre of Tehran Province and the coroner had confirmed his “mental health”, meaning that the killer understood the nature of his crime and done it with full awareness. Nevertheless, the demand of Setayesh’s family and the people and also the demand of the Afghan community in Iran and public opinion pressure further facilitated the conditions for the issuing of the death sentence.
Legislative Background of Death Sentence for Individuals Under 18
According to article 49 of the Islamic Penal Code (1992), children in the event of committing a crime do not have criminal responsibility and in the event of reaching adulthood they have criminal responsibility. The serious criticism of this law was that the criminal responsibility age in the Islamic Penal Code is lower than the human rights standards, which is 18.
With the efforts and demands of civil society and the ratification by members of parliament, in 2013 a number of amendments and changes were made in the Penal Code. On this basis, juveniles under 18 who commit crimes receive Hodood and Ghesas. In the event that it is proven that they do not comprehend and understand the crime that they have committed or do not have enough mental maturity, with consideration of their age, the juveniles are sentences to alternative punishments. Also on the basis of this law, children are exempt from criminal responsibility. Thus, Taaziri punishments (punishments that are not set by Islamic Sharia) is different for individuals under 18 years old. Individuals under 18 are not given prison sentences. But they are sent for correction to places such as the Reform and Correctional Centre. And if the parents do not have the competence, the children are given to a private or legal individual for raising.
In other words, according to the new amendments of 2013, if individuals under 18 do not understand the nature of the crime that they have committed, they will not be sentenced to death. Judges can now can seek the opinion of the Coroner’s Office for the evaluation of the mental conditions of the individuals. Also all individuals who when sentenced to death were under legal age, can ask for a retrial.
The Need to Socialisation to Change Views to Capital Punishment
Culture building and creation of a suitable bae for the thought development that execution is not a solution to prevent horrific crimes such as the case for Setayesh, is necessary for the abolishment of capital punishment for individuals under 18 years of age. The efforts of NGOs and social researchers can bring about the basis for guiding social demands towards the reduction and stopping of capital punishment for individuals under 18 years of age.
Psychologists believe that social damages on one hand cause a rise in crimes such as rape and murder and on the other hand public opinion wants an end to these damages. Without considering the initial damages, the simplest solution is to eliminate the perpetrators of these crimes. Social pressures sometimes makes us forget that children who even commit acts of rape and murder themselves are victims of social damages.
Thus, we believe that the reasons children commit crimes must be given priority over the punishments. Social damages play a direct role in the occurrence of these crimes. Poverty due to inadequate social infrastructures, unemployment and or wasteful migration to cities due to droughts etc. play a key role in the breakup of the social structure and inadequacy of cultural and educational institutions. In this situation, the role of civil societies in reforms and improvements to social damages and playing a role in education, can reduce social demands for capital punishment, and reduce the creating factors of the committing of such crimes by children.