Iran halts execution of man arrested for murder as a teenager

Hossein Shahbazi was to be hanged but it is unclear if punishment was delayed or cancelled

Iran halted the planned hanging of a man arrested for murder when he was just 17 following an outcry over the flouting of international rules on executing youngsters.

Hossein Shahbazi was due to be hanged on Monday at Adelabad prison in Shiraz but it was not carried out for unspecified reasons, said campaigners seeking a retrial.

UN experts and human rights groups had condemned the planned execution. It was not immediately clear if it had been delayed or cancelled.

Mr Shahbazi was convicted of stabbing a classmate after a mass brawl but campaigners say his confession was extracted after torture.

Police in Shiraz, Fars province, held him for 11 days without access to a lawyer and he showed signs of abuse when his family finally got to see him.

Iran continues to use the death penalty for crimes committed by people under the age of 18, despite signing a UN deal banning the practice in 1968.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says: “The sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below 18 years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women."

The sentence was due to be carried out before Iran’s Supreme Court had ruled on a request for a retrial for Mr Shahbazi.

His case has been highlighted by Amnesty International and UN experts called on Iran to honour its obligations under international law and halt the execution as the Twitter campaign #SaveHossein gained traction online.

After his case was publicised, prison guards told Mr Shahbazi, now 20, that the victim’s family would be contacted to request a pardon.

Death sentences can be avoided in Iran if the convicted killer pays the bereaved family compensation. The penalty can then be replaced by a prison term.

Mr Shahbazi would have been the first person this year who was under 18 at the time of committing a crime to be executed.

Amnesty International said at least three juveniles were executed in 2020 and scores more are on death row. Iran executed 246 people last year, the second highest number for any country.

“The imposition of the death penalty in Iran contrasts with the current international trend of abolishing the death penalty and is contrary to its prohibition against child offenders,” said a group of three UN rights experts including Javaid Rehman, the UN’s investigator on Iran.

Mr Shahbazi is being held at the same prison as two brothers of Navid Afkari, the champion Iranian wrestler who was executed in secret in September 2020.

Vahid, 36, and Habib Afkari, 29, have been tortured, isolated and denied visits from their families after being detained in 2018 for joining protests against the regime.

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