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Iranian woman faces imminent execution after "unfair trial"

October 11, 2016

Amnesty International has urged the Iranian judiciary to halt a death sentence against a 22-year-old woman. Zeinab Sekaanvand faces execution by hanging this week for the February 2012 murder of her husband.

Protests against executions in Iran
Image: Getty Images/AFP/S. Hamed

Amnesty International called Zeinab Sekaanvand's court case a "grossly unfair trial," with limited legal counsel given to the accused woman. Aged 17 when she allegedly committed the crime, Sekaanvand was a minor by international legal standards, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Iran is a signatory to both treaties, but ignores many of its obligations under their stipulations. Foreign nations appear to be hesitant in intervening in such domestic issues in Iran amid a general climate of rapprochement.

However, Iran defines adulthood as the onset of puberty, which it arbitrarily says starts at the age of nine for girls. Having married her husband at age 15, Zeinab Sekaanvand is therefore not considered a "child bride" under Iranian guidelines either.

Miscarriage of justice - and of her child

Sekaanvand's execution had been put on hold when it emerged earlier in the year that she was pregnant after marrying a fellow prisoner at Oroumieh Central Prison in northern Iran.

Doctors reported that the baby had died in the young woman's womb after she went into shock following a cellmate's execution in September 2016. Having given birth to the stillborn child last month, Sekaanvand could face execution by hanging as early as later in the week, rights groups such as Amnesty say.

False confession

Sekaanvand had initially confessed to the murder after her arrest, saying she had killed her husband after years of abuse; later, however, she retracted her statement, saying that it was her husband's brother, who had actually committed the crime, and that he had talked her into taking the blame. She had also been reportedly subjected to police violence after her arrest, which she thought she could stop by confessing.

Her retraction was ignored by the court, even though her confession had been made without any legal counsel by her side.

"Not only was Zeinab Sekaanvand under 18 years of age at the time of the crime, she was also denied access to a lawyer and says she was tortured after her arrest by male police officers through beatings all over her body," said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

No mercy in capital cases

A similar case drew widespread condemnation from human rights groups in 2016, when Iran executed Fatemeh Salbehi, a woman, who had suffocated her husband after drugging him when she was only 17. Like Zeinab Sekaanvand, Fatemeh Salbehi also reported that her husband had abused her.

According to an Amnesty report published at the beginning of 2016, Iran has executed at least 73 juvenile offenders in the past ten years. While the Iranian judiciary has typically held off on executing minors until they at least reach the age of 18, it does not hesitate with expediting death warrants once the legal requirements are fulfilled.

Iran has one of the world's highest execution rates.

ss/bw (Reuters, Amnesty International)