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Zeinab Sekaanvand, a 24-year-old Kurdish national, was executed in Iran’s Urumieh Central Prison on Tuesday, October the 2nd. Accused of murdering her husband in 2012 at the mere age of 17, Zeinab had not received a fair trial.
Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, labelled the execution — which breached multiple international human rights agreements — a “sickening demonstration of the Iranian authorities’ disregard for the principles of juvenile justice.” Luther stated that Amnesty continue to be “horrified” by Iran’s repeated use of the death penalty against convicts who were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged crime, claiming that this is already the fifth case they have recorded during the last year. Tweeting on Tuesday, Luther summarized the issues surrounding Zeinab’s execution: “She was a child when arrested and convicted after an unfair trial.”
This event not only centers on the tragic death of a young woman but also highlights multiple issues with Iran’s legal system — the continued use of the death penalty as punishment, corrupt court proceedings, and mistreatment of minors in the criminal system. In its reporting of the event, Amnesty urges Iran to work towards ending the death penalty, whilst calling for the immediate prohibition of its use against accused minors, and the Organization for World Peace supports Amnesty in this call to end violence and corrupt legal proceedings.
However, a further issue is evident in Zeinab’s case: the near total lack of reporting of it by international news outlets. Zeinab’s legal battle has previously received some international public attention, including reports from the BBC in 2012 when she was arrested and again in 2014 upon her conviction. And yet, Amnesty International is one of the only organizations to report on her execution this week. Zeinab’s case must receive more widespread attention to ensure that Iran is held accountable to the international agreements that it has breached.
From a poor and conservative background, Zeinab ran away from her parents’ home at 15 and married Hossein Sarmadi. However, her hardships did not end there, as Sarmadi soon began to physically and verbally abuse her, and even allowed her brother-in-law to repeatedly rape her. When Hossein refused a divorce, she reported her case to police, but her complaints went ignored. Later, in 2012, when Hossein was killed, Zeinab was accused of stabbing him to death. Held for 20 days, she was then reportedly tortured by male police officers until she confessed to his murder — a confession that she withdrew during her 2014 trial when she was finally assigned a state lawyer. Her execution had initially been delayed because she re-married in prison during 2015 and became pregnant, as it is illegal in Iran to execute pregnant women, but in September 2016, Zeinab was eventually hanged after giving birth to a stillborn child.
Zeinab’s execution has violated two international human rights laws that the country has previously sworn to: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Both laws prohibit the death penalty as punishment for offenders under the age of 18 at the time of the crime in question.
The lack of media attention that Zeinab’s case has received sets a worrying and dangerous precedent for the future. If Iran is not held accountable for its infringements of human rights laws, abuse victims in the Middle East will feel disinclined to come forward, and minors in the legal system will continue to face mistreatment, as court proceedings will not be consistently conducted on a legal basis. The international community must react in condemning these infringements, or Zeinab’s tragic case could become the norm.