Public Defender Challenges Execution Order Against Iranian Child Bride for Alleged Crime Committed as Juvenile
The execution order against Zeinab Sekaanvand Lankarani, who was married off at 15-years-old to the man she allegedly killed two years later, is being challenged by her public defender. Lankarani, imprisoned at Urmia Central Prison in northwestern Iran, is accused of killing her husband when she was 17 years old.
“Zeinab admitted to the murder while she was being interrogated, but in court she denied it and said her husband’s brother carried out the crime and told her to take the blame,” Rita Tootoonchi, Lankarani’s court-appointed lawyer, told the International Campaign for Human Rights on October 12, 2016. “In the Appeals Court I presented evidence that showed Zeinab may not have been the murderer… Zeinab is right-handed, but the direction of the knife wound showed that it had to have come from the opposite hand.”
“I am hoping my request will be accepted and the execution will be postponed by the Supreme Court after considering the fact that she was under 18 years old at the time of the crime,” she added.
Tootoonchi also told the Campaign that she had not been in contact with her client since she was informed by judicial authorities on October 3 that Lankarani’s execution would be carried out “within the next few weeks, unless the victim’s family agrees to stop it.”
“I asked the victim’s family to pardon Zeinab and told them that it’s not really clear that she was the murderer. She may have had an accomplice who actually made the blows. But unfortunately the victim’s family have not agreed and they want retribution,” she said.
“All I can do at this point is ask the court to consider Article 91 of the Islamic Penal Code, so that maybe then her life could be spared. Unfortunately, Zeinab does not have anyone to look after her case, and the victim’s family has not pardoned her, unfortunately,” added Tootoonchi.
According to Article 91: “… if mature people under eighteen years do not realize the nature of the crime committed or its prohibition, or if there is uncertainty about their full mental development, according to their age, they shall be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter.”
According to the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is illegal to execute someone for crimes committed under the age of eighteen. Iran is party to both treaties. Nonetheless, Iran remains one of a handful of countries still putting juveniles to death.
Lankarani was born in Maku, in Kurdistan Province. She was arrested on March 1, 2012 and charged with killing Hossein Sarmadi, who she was married off to two years earlier at the age of 15. She was sentenced to death on October 22, 2014 by Branch 2 of the Urmia Criminal Court. The ruling was later confirmed by the Supreme Court, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported on October 4, 2016.
According to official Iranian statistics, tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are married off by their families each year in Iran. The United Nations has categorized child marriage as a human rights violation. Civil and children’s rights activists in Iran have opposed religious conservatives who advocate child marriage.