Wednesday, October 14, 2009

U.N. Rights Boss Urges I.R. Iran to Review Death Sentences

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The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday urged Iran's appeal courts to carefully review the death sentences handed down for three people over street unrest following the disputed election in June. International law stipulates that the death penalty can only be applied when strict conditions are met, specifically when defendants charged with the most serious crimes are subjected to "scrupulously fair trials", Navi Pillay said in a statement. In the view of most U.N. human rights bodies, imposing the death penalty for crimes that did not result in the loss of life violates an international treaty on civil and political rights which was ratified by Iran, according to Pillay. "There are also major concerns about the way the recent trials of opposition activists were conducted and I hope these judgments will be reviewed carefully by the higher courts," the South African said in a statement. The Iranian news agency ISNA reported on Saturday that a court had sentenced three people to death over the street unrest and links to exiled opposition groups. It quoted an official of Tehran's provincial court saying the sentences can be appealed.

The opposition has said the presidential poll was rigged to secure hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election. But Iranian authorities have rejected vote fraud charges and portrayed the protests as foreign-backed efforts to undermine the Islamic Republic. Pillay, a former U.N. war crimes judge, restated her opposition to the death penalty "in all circumstances" and urged all governments to establish a moratorium on executions. She also voiced dismay that Iran on Saturday hanged a man who had been under-18 when he stabbed a boy to death. The European Union had urged Tehran to halt his execution and Pillay had also raised Behnoud Shojaie's case with Iranian authorities. The U.N. official called for changes to law and practice in Iran "to end execution of juvenile offenders once and for all." "A new draft juvenile justice law, which is currently being considered by the Iranian legislature, provides a valuable opportunity to end the execution of juvenile offenders," Pillay said.