The problem with Iran's proposed penal code
September 4th, 2012
10:09 AM ET

The problem with Iran's proposed penal code

By Faraz Sanei, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Faraz Sanei is the Iran researcher with the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the author’s own.

Around 5 a.m. last September 21, police officers escorted Alireza Molla-Soltani to a public square in the city of Karaj, 12 miles west of Tehran. It was dark, but a large crowd was waiting there. The officers hoisted Molla-Soltani, who was blindfolded with his hands cuffed behind his back, up on a stool. He slipped a few times, but then managed to keep his balance. As the officers placed a noose around his neck, he began to sob and beg for mercy. A couple of minutes later, a crane slowly lifted Molla-Soltani by his neck. He was pronounced dead several minutes later.

Molla-Soltani was two months shy of his 18th birthday.

The judiciary sentenced Molla-Soltani to death for the July 2011 murder of Ruhollah Dadashi, champion of Iran’s “strongest man” competition. Molla-Soltani and his lawyers contended that he had acted in self-defense.

Alireza Rezvanmanesh, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, defended the execution, saying that Iranian law allows execution of offenders sentenced to death as long as they have reached 18 lunar years by the time they are put to death. He ignored the fact that international law strictly prohibits the execution of anyone who was under 18 when the offense was committed.

Partly in response to local and international pressures regarding Draconian laws such as those that allow child executions, Iranian lawmakers proposed changes to the country’s penal code. In January, the Guardian Council, an unelected body of 12 religious jurists who vet legislation to ensure its compatibility with Iran’s Constitution and Sharia law, approved the final text of an amended penal code. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not yet signed the amended code into law, but he may do so at any time.

Iranian lawmakers and judiciary officials have cited the amendments as a serious attempt to comply with Iran’s international human rights obligations.

Indeed, the amended penal code abolishes the death penalty for certain categories of crimes committed by child offenders, such as drug trafficking. But the proposed revisions would still allow judges to sentence child offenders, like Molla-Soltani, to death for other crimes. In 2011, at least 143 child offenders were on death row in Iranian prisons. The new code pegs the age of criminal responsibility to the age of maturity under Sharia law, which in Iranian jurisprudence is 9 for girls and 15 for boys.

There are numerous other problems with the new penal code. The proposed amendments continue to mandate the death penalty for “crimes” such as consensual sexual conduct outside of marriage, drinking alcohol, and apostasy (even though no law prohibits apostasy). Many other objectionable provisions under the current penal code remain in the amended version, including punishments, among them death, for alleged violations of Iran’s broadly-worded national security laws. These laws are regularly used to try and convict political dissidents, including peaceful dissidents, in revolutionary courts. In some cases, the proposed amendments further weaken the rights of criminal defendants and allow judges wide discretion to issue punishments, including death.

In 2011, Iran executed at least 600 people, second only to China.

The new penal code provisions also permit the continued use of punishments that amount to torture or cruel and degrading treatment, such as stoning, flogging and amputation – and retain discriminatory provisions against women and religious minorities.

Last week, Iran hosted the 16th annual Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. Iranian leaders used the summit as an opportunity to tout their standing among NAM countries – and on the international stage. Dozens of state leaders attended the summit to discuss, among other things, the situation of human rights worldwide. In fact, NAM’s founding charter requires members to “respect fundamental human rights” and “respect justice and international obligations.”

The summit may be over, but it is not too late for representatives of the member states to remind their Iranian counterparts that serious criminal reform is integral to respecting fundamental human rights and justice – and that real criminal reform in Iran requires a thorough overhaul of a penal code that has for too long been a tool of systematic repression in the hands of the authorities, and will continue to be if Ahmadinejad signs the amended penal code into law.

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Topics: Human Rights • Iran

soundoff (151 Responses)
  1. no nothing

    I wonder if they allow abortions in Iran. If not then it will make the abortonuts happy that they lived long enough to be aborted later.

    September 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Nope. Allah likes 'em killed this way instead.

      September 4, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
  2. Robertz

    Good thing this country isn't in the United Nations..........(sarc)

    September 4, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Grim

    LMAO, some of you talk as if there could ever be justice (in any way) in a country so backward and completely and utterly controlled by religiously devout nut jobs. For to believe in such folly and still pretend to be civilized is illogical. Gods don't ask for justice only followers and believers, the rest are "removed" slowly and surely. Once that happens only the religious crazies remain, and once every one is a religious crazy no one is.
    BOW, YEILD, KNEEL!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  4. hypatia

    Iran is a global sinkhole. What else is new?

    September 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
    • vatoloke

      Is your last name Lee?

      September 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • yasi

      Americans can be SO ignorant! What else is new!?!?!?
      Power to the Peaceful

      September 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
      • canadarox

        Sorry, but Peace and Power are two words that juxtapose each other.

        September 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
    • Chat Pata

      Hypatia. You still alive? I thought Christian monks executed you a dozen centuries ago for proving them wrong (sun does not evolve around earth)

      September 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
  5. George


    September 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  6. Rob

    Wow, Iran is now as nutty as the rest of the world when it comes to the penal code and children.

    September 4, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Iran has always been the centre of cruelty and abuse.
      Your lies don't wash up here.
      Silly muzzie.

      September 5, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  7. Dave

    Who cares what Iran does to their own people as long as they don't try to build a nuclear weapon. I'm hoping Israel levels Iran's nuclear reactors before they can do some real harm.

    September 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  8. Ken Margo

    I know this will sound cold. But we really shouldn't care. That is their problem. We wouldn't want them to change our laws so we shouldn't worry about their laws. That is what freedom is about, having a choice. According to republicans, this is more acceptable than abortion. If the child was aborted, they would be up in arms. It's more acceptable in G-ods eye this way.

    September 4, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      yeah, let's let them marry off their daughters at 6 years old.
      Let's let them hang gays and lesbians.
      Let's let them beat their wives for any reason whatsoever.
      Sure. No problem.

      September 5, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  9. Bruce

    When will Iran become become human, that is when will they grow up and stop killing children under age. Is it because they don't like them or is there an under lying problem. Remember they will be call upon someday for their the sins against the young, just like the Nazi were by the whole world.

    September 4, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      The problem is simple. THESE PEOPLE ARE NUTS! We have our owns problems also though. The war on drugs. Failure. Pro-lifers against healthcare, gun laws. The list of our zany ways goes on for miles.

      September 4, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
      • curias

        Our own problems. Humanitarians for abortion. Ex war protesters now okay with the overseas execution of 16 year-old US Citizens by drone, ordered by our president. The disarming of common citizens, while DHS orders over450 million rounds of hollow point ammo that is not allowed to be used in international warfare. Where do you stand on these things?

        September 4, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • yasi

      Hilarious, because that is what my family in Iran is always asking me about the United States! They wonder why children would kill each other in school. Why fathers would kill their own families and then kill themselves. Why people would drive by and shoot each other. They ask me why I'm choosing to live in such a violent country.
      The sad thing is that we all ONLY hear the terrible news about other places. So we live our short little lives paralyzed and embittered by fake fear. The government wants you to be afraid and to really believe that THOSE people over there are crazy and so different from you. Because that is the moment you hand all your power to them to keep you "safe".
      Iranians are no different than any other people on earth. Some are ruled by their hate and fear and some are ruled by love and peace. Just like humans EVERYWHERE.
      We all wake up in the morning, have breakfast, send our kids to school, go to work, visit with friends and family. We are SO much the same, yet we allow the beautiful and insignificant cultural differences we have to drive us apart.
      Power to the Peaceful.

      September 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
      • curias

        I'm sure you see the theme in these threads of US right / left wing politics, that keeps us trapped in a tiny box of thought. If you root for the Republicans, you ignore the false flags, wars of aggression, and stripping of personal privacy and liberties. If you vote Democrat, you cared about these things until 4 years ago. All of a sudden, wars of aggression are now a necessity. And the Patriot Act must have been an okay thing, because it's been expanded by Executive Order by the current administration. It doesn't make any sense at all to me anymore. It's too obvious..

        September 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
      • Ken Margo

        INSIGNIFICANT! The biggest difference is the gov't is doing those things over there. Over here it's individuals. The gov't is supposed to take care of the people. You cant control what an individual will do all the time.

        September 4, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
      • canadarox

        In the US, a father who kills his wife and or daughter is called a criminal. In the middle east, it's demmed an "honor" killing. He's a hero.

        September 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  10. Steve Waddell

    Hey Andrew why dont we drop the bomb on Israel instead and arrest all the jewish bankers here in the US? Talk about instant world peace.

    September 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Your point? Like killing Jews will solve all the problems. Trust me, these whack jobs will come up with something else to b-itch about.

      September 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  11. Bukoo

    We should take a lesson from them and start putting some of these stupid kids on death row also. However, I think we have them beat per capita regarding our adult prison population. What a thing to be proud of. We should look at our own record before we go around talking about the prison records or the humanitarian records of others. JUST TAKE A LOOK AT THE HOMELESS IN DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES...such a pretty site huh? The US seems so quick to point the finger at other countries before accepting any responsibility of our own. AND SHAME ON YOU CNN.

    September 4, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Why is the shame on CNN?

      September 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
  12. curias

    Does anyone remember the story about Iraqis throwing babies out of incubators, just before Desert Storm. Later came out that it was a lie. Gulf of Tonkin, pretext for Vietnam war? Also a lie (false flag). This is typical media hype, meant to get idiots all riled up in a tribe mentality and ready for war with those people that don't look like them. Do people really still fall for this stuff?

    September 4, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • canadarox

      careful, or i'll get you with my weapon of mass destruction.

      September 4, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  13. RB

    Nothing wrong with what Iran does with their Penal Code in Sentencing Child Molesters to death, nothing wrong with that...

    September 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  14. RB

    And nothing wrong with sentencing Child Criminals to death too!, nothing wrong with it. Iran is 1000% on target. You know the Crime, you pay...

    September 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Having the death penalty is wrong. Our legal system is good but not perfect. There have been many individuals on death row who were found not guilty later. A system so imperfect should not have such a permanent penalty.

      September 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
  15. Ken Margo

    @curias You sound like you're mad at everyone! One at a time.

    Abortions should be legal. I don't see any pro-lifers offering any money to help these children. Which proves one thing pro lifers don't care about the kids.

    I'd rather drones drop bombs then send our troops over there to be killed..

    As far as lies are concerned about Iraq. The biggest one is the WMD's. We're still looking for those.

    September 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  16. Chat Pata

    In Texas they not only execute children, they execute the mentally retards as well. Death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

    September 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      TRUE! The gov't should try to set an example and not kill individuals.

      September 4, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  17. guarg

    For a minute I was reading this story and wondering what the big deal was. 17 y/o's are not children, they are adults hiding behind a date (it's called false adolescence in sociology). Its only halfway down the page that the author gets to the crux of the issue and begins mentioning how bad the system really is. Bad writing CNN, I almost stopped reading because it looked like another stretch of the truth to hook people into a liberal story.

    September 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      (it's called false adolescence in sociology) This is the B.S. you want us accept. You obviously don't have any children and if you do they should be taken away. Should a 17 year old be working and supporting a family? You need to pull your head out of your AZZ.

      September 4, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  18. DC Observer

    Iran is a backwards country with the morals of a river rat. I would be pleased if the US had nothing to do with them for eternity --and I would not grant a VISA for any Iranian President to set foot on US territory – every.

    September 4, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  19. Matt

    Can we stop with the stolen oil claims? If we stole someone's oil I'm not seeing any relief in what i pay for gas. If we are stealing Iran's oil lets at least get a cut since we all pay taxes, am I right?

    September 4, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      The stolen oil claims is just crap. My policy would be that if any country attacks the U.S. We should take their land. If you want to fight the U.S. beware of the consequences.

      September 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  20. ArthurP

    Iran the Texas of the Middle East, oil and massive capital punishment programs.

    September 4, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
  21. Phucked

    Extremist nut jobs come in all colors and speak many languages. Whether they are from Iran, Afghanistan or Texas, they are all nut job religious extremists. In in the USA we would do well to clean up our own house before we criticize others about theirs. The US would also do well to sell off most of the states south of the 38th parallel. Whether it's the heat, the water, or both, it would seem that most of the crap the rest of us have to deal with emanates from the south.

    September 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  22. irock

    If I could get in a dark alley with that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for just a few minutes I would do the world a huge favor. I hate that guy, I hate the stupid way he looks, His beady little to close together eyes and his insanity. He really really needs to be purged from existence.

    September 4, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      I laugh still when I remember a commentor likening Ahmadinedork to a wino. So funny!

      September 6, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  23. Dave

    Muslims being muslims.

    September 4, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  24. Alan Beasley

    Why carry on the charade?

    Most world issues begin … and end with Iran.

    It’s unbelievable – and Obama came into office planning to “talk” with the radical leaders in Iran?

    Talk about – “not ready to be president”. Obama is over his head and it’s obvious.

    If you read my latest book “Legacy of Success” then you know I show how Obama is following a plan that – even if he is unaware – it’s eerily identical to Iran’s plan for Israel…

    You just can’t ignore it – when something like 22 actions Obama has ALREADY done –

    -call for 1967 borders

    -install radicals in Egypt

    -encourage rift between Turkey and Israel

    -resist helping Iran’s uprising

    -leak Israelis plans/route/bases

    -end U.S. help in Lebanon

    -publicly disrespect Israelis leaders

    -ignore Iranian plots in the U.S.

    -keep oil prices high – more $$$ to Iran

    and on and on

    Even Obama restoring aid to N. Korea allowed the NK rulers to divert $$$ to misslles technology – that was then sold and shipped to Iran.


    I hope our friends in Israel realize that most Americans are embarrassed by Obama – we stand with Israel.

    September 4, 2012 at 10:51 pm |
    • Quigley

      Liar, liar, pants on fire!

      September 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  25. Hahahahahahahaha

    The problem with Iran's code is that they have a small penal! Hahahahahahah

    September 5, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  26. Archie Wears

    wonderful publish, very informative. I'm wondering why the other specialists of this sector don't realize this. You should proceed your writing. I am confident, you've a huge readers' base already!

    December 6, 2020 at 1:40 pm |
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