IRAN’S hardline leadership has begun a merciless purge of its opponents that could end with children hanging from gallows.
Students are likely to feel the worst excesses of the vengeance being exacted by the country’s religious rulers in the wake of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Anyone who dared to protest over the disputed presidential election result two weeks ago has been warned that their defiance will result in the harshest punishments.
Under Iran’s medieval legal system that could mean children – in theory, girls as young as nine – facing execution.
A damning report of Iran’s flagrant contempt for international laws on capital punishment will next week expose the appalling extent of child executions in the strict Islamic state.
Although UN decrees state that no person under 18 should be executed or sentenced to death, Iran’s prisons echo with the cries of youngsters facing the noose.
Today, 160 young people await their fate on death row for crimes including homosexuality, having sex outside marriage or turning their backs on Islam.
Their chances of reprieve are slim. Over the past five years, 33 children have faced the noose.
By comparison, the other Middle East countries still executing children – Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – have a combined total of 19 on Death Row.
The report, From Cradle to Coffin, is produced by the London-based Foreign Policy Centre and Stop Child Executions. It reveals many of the cases, including the most recent hanging of a young woman in May.
Delara Darabi spent five years behind bars for a murder she was alleged to have carried out at the age of 17.
She strenuously denied the crime and went to her death sobbing: “Mum, they want to execute me. I see the gallows. Mother, save me.”
A public execution in a town square in August 2004 was the punishment for 16-year-old Atefeh Sahaaeh Rajabi, whose crimes were listed as “acts incompatible with chastity”. Her lover received 95 lashes.
Further condemnation of Iran’s archaic Sharia law will be ignited by an award-winning film, The Stoning of Soraya M.
A dramatisation of a best-selling book by a French-Iranian journalist, it is based on the true story of a young woman who was killed for committing adultery.
Critics blame Iran’s adherence to its archaic practice of linking criminal responsibility with the end of puberty – for boys 14 years seven months and for girls eight years nine months.
It means children – who make up 47 per cent of the country’s population – are still facing capital charges, even though recent legislation was supposed to abolish the practice.
The hard-hitting report, which will be released next week, has been produced by respected human rights campaigners Nazanin Afshin-Jam and Tahirih Danesh and will make recommendations, including possible travel bans and freezing the assets of officials most responsible for perpetuating child executions.
Tahirih Danesh fears that Iran’s recent scenes of social disorder in Tehran could result in young people facing execution for their show of civil dissent.
She said: “There is a possibility that what has happened behind prison doors for 30 years could happen as a result of what we have seen over the past two weeks on television.
“The execution of juveniles is not only against religious, legal, moral and international laws and precepts, but it also eradicates any chance of rehabilitation and restoration of justice and order in society.
“It creates a vicious cycle where violence begets violence and the most precious asset of a nation, its youth, is systematically targeted and destroyed.
“Iran has done a great deal to improve its treatment of juvenile offenders and I hope it will do a great deal more as the global community moves towards abolishing child executions by 2015.”
Article 37 of the United Nations’ Convention on childrens’ rights states: “Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below 18 years of age.”
Any students caught up in the violence that flared on Tehran’s streets could find themselves facing capital offences.
Iranian government officials claim that eight members of the Basij – the hated paramilitary force that come under the orders of the Revolutionary Guard – were killed during the disorder. Anyone convicted of these killings, no matter their age, would be given little mercy.
Internet websites and Twitter pages have graphically documented many of the atrocities carried out by Iranian troops and secret police.
As order is restored, vengeful clerics are demanding the ultimate sanction against the leaders of the protest.
Last week, Neda Agha Soltan became the face of Iran’s pro-democracy movement when she was shot dead during a demonstration.
But in a sermon at Tehran University last Friday, Ayatollah Ahmed Khatami blamed the 27-year-old’s death on the protesters.
Accusing them of firing on the security services, Mr Khatami said: “Anyone who takes up arms to fight the people is worthy of execution. We ask that the judiciary confront the leaders of the protests without mercy to provide a lesson for all.”