Middle East Spotlight:
Capital Punishment in Saudi Arabia and Iran: Unfair Trials and
Selected Source: See Below
International human rights law requires that a country imposing the death penalty do so only in cases where its judicial system has meticulously complied with fair trial standards. These standards include a defendant’s right to competent counsel, to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and to not be forced to confess guilt. In Saudi Arabia and Iran, however, confessions obtained under duress are routinely admitted into judicial proceedings. Defendants are not able to challenge evidence during trial and are frequently subjected to extensive pretrial detention without judicial review.
On average, the Saudi Arabian government executes two persons per week by means of public beheading. Sometimes crucifixion of the body follows the beheading. Half of those executed in 2008 were poor foreign nationals from developing countries who often had difficulty comprehending the Arabic-language trial proceedings. Defendants were not informed of the legal proceedings against them and were typically not represented by counsel. Those on “death row” were not given prior notice of the date of their beheading.
Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits execution for crimes committed by persons less than eighteen years of age. Despite this status, Saudi Arabia is one of five countries known to execute juvenile offenders. Human rights groups criticized the beheadings of two men on May 12, 2009, who were juveniles at the time of their alleged crimes, arguing that their death sentences were imposed after “grossly unfair trial proceedings.” On a positive note, Human Rights Watch reported that Saudi Arabia committed itself to ending capital punishment for juveniles during its review by the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2009.
Like Saudi Arabia, Iran also allows execution of juvenile offenders. Under current Iranian law, the death penalty is a permissible form of punishment for certain crimes committed by girls as young as nine years old and boys as young as fifteen years old. In addition, a judge may choose to impose the death penalty on a younger child if a determination is made that the child has reached puberty.
On May 1, 2009, twenty-two-year-old Delara Darabi was hanged in Iran for a murder she allegedly committed at the age of seventeen. She had been imprisoned since 2003. Her lawyer says that during her trial, there was a significant lack of evidence proving her guilt, and the court refused to accept exculpatory evidence. Iranian law requires that prison authorities notify a defendant’s lawyer at least forty-eight hours before an execution. Neither Darabi’s family nor her lawyer was notified prior to her secret hanging in prison.
As a result of the international outcry following Darabi’s execution, the Rights and Justice Commission of the Iranian Parliament and the Guardian Council plan to develop a new strategy for addressing juvenile offenders with hopes of eventually banning juvenile executions.