The Islamic republic executes convicts for crimes they committed while under-age “three to four times” a year, argued Majid Tafreshi of the state-run High Council for Human Rights.
Such uses of capital punishment are “not a symbol of violations of human rights,” he said in an interview with AFP, charging that criticism of the practice was “not fair”.
“When we are talking about under-18s, we are not talking about six or five years old. We are talking about mainly our 17 years old big boys (where) the court recognised their maturity.”
The United Nations and human rights groups frequently criticise Iran for executing child offenders, which violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that Tehran has ratified.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet last week pointed to Iran’s “widespread use of the death penalty” and said that “over 80 child offenders are on death row, with at least four at risk of imminent execution”.
Tafreshi, the council’s deputy head of international affairs, rejected international criticism.
He said the council’s broad goal “is minimising the number of executions… as much as possible”, calling it an effort for which “nobody applauds Iran”.
Iran last year executed at least four people found guilty of murders committed when they were minors, according to the UN.
Murder is punishable by death in Iran, according to the Islamic law of retribution that demands an “eye for an eye”. Convicts’ lives can be spared however if the victim’s family agrees to pardon them.
Tafreshi pointed out that Islam’s holy book the Koran says that demanding the convict’s execution “is your right as a victim’s family” — but also that showing mercy and agreeing to a pardon is “good for you”.
Usually, he said, “we’re trying to convince the victim’s family to pardon” child offenders sentenced to death.
Tafreshi said the council routinely seeks to find money to compensate victims’ families and to convince them to grant a reprieve, sometimes in a process that takes many years.
These efforts result in pardons agreed by victims’ families in 96 percent of cases, according to Tafreshi.
He argued that Iran’s penal code shows “leniency” toward child offenders and that judges make special efforts to determine if a homicide was intentional and the offender mature enough to understand the nature of the crime.
Tafreshi dismissed as “propaganda” charges by the UN, foreign governments and rights groups that many Iranian detainees are tortured and denied fair trials, adding that any suspected such cases are investigated.
He also pointed to what he labelled Western countries’ own human rights violations, including the United States’ “barbaric sanctions” on Iran, and British and French arms sales to Arab monarchies of the Gulf region.