Christi Cheramie was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at the age of 16 in 1994.
It’s not a total ban on juvenile life without parole, but at least now courts considering the crimes of juvenile offenders will have options other than a mandated life without parole sentence. So it’s a welcome step forward.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that laws mandating life without parole for juvenile offenders, with no other options, are unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment”. In other words, to be constitutional, a juvenile life without parole scheme needs to have other, lesser, alternatives, so that courts will have the flexibility to consider mitigating factors that are invariably part of a young offender’s background.
While this ruling still allows for the possibility that those under 18 years of age at the time of the crime could be sentenced to life without parole, it is a step in the right direction.
According the Justice Roberts’ dissent, there are over 2,000 juvenile offenders currently serving life without parole who were sentenced under a mandatory scheme (see our infographic). This represents about 80% of the child offenders serving life without parole.
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After spending one week at in Evin prison in Tehran, Mohammad Mostafaei — the attorney famous for defending juvenile offenders in death penalty cases in Iran — was released on July 1 on a one billion rial bail (more than $100,000). Mostafaei was arrested the previous week for his human rights activism during the Iranian protests, which erupted in the wake of the announcement of Iran’s election results in mid-June. The accusations against him include charges of conspiracy and propaganda, as well as an alleged intention to harm “state security,” even though his activities have been entirely peaceful and guided by his dedication to human rights in the country.
After his release, Mostafaei publicly thanked his supporters and fellow activists across the world and said that this experience has strengthened his resolve to fight against injustice. However, Mostafaei is still in direct danger of prosecution, imprisonment and even torture for defending and publicly expressing his beliefs. A potential conviction and incarceration would be a huge blow to human rights in Iran. It will also be a major setback in the fight against the execution of juvenile offenders in the country, which Mostafaei has led for so long.
In the midst of all of the political and social turmoil in Iran right now, activist and lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei was arrested this afternoon and taken away by plainclothes officers while out with his wife and daughter. The arrest was most likely related to his human rights activites connected with the recent protests, but he is most well-known for his work representing juveniles facing the death penalty. The officials searched Mostafaei’s home and his office after arresting him and then took him away to an undisclosed location. His family has not been informed of his whereabouts.
Mohammad Mostafaei is a lawyer who, among other things, represents those on death row who were juveniles at the time of their crimes. He currently has 25 such cases. As a signitory of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, Iran has agreed not to execute anyone for a crime committed before the age of 18, but they have ignored this agreement many many times. By Amnesty International’s count, Iran has executed 18 child offenders since 2007.
Several juvenile offenders are currently at risk of execution in Iran, including Mohammad Reza Haddadi and Naser Qasemi, and Mehdi Mazroui.
It is important for the Iranian government to know that others are watching how they treat their citizens, particularly those who work in defense of human rights. And it is important for Iranian human rights defenders to have our support. Mostafaei is, in many cases, the only hope his clients have of being spared their life, but there is little that he can do from behind bars. Please urge Iranian leaders to release Mostafaei, and to permit others to speak out without fear of persecution.
Delara Darabi faces imminent execution. Like many sentenced to death in Iran, she was convicted of a crime committed when she was a child. Almost no other country in the world executes juvenile offenders, yet Iran has put 16 of them to death since the beginning of 2007. Iran’s death row continues to house scores of young men and women facing the noose for crimes that took place when they were under 18 years old. These include Abumoslem Sohrabi and Abbas Hosseini, whose executions may also be imminent.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child forbids the death penalty for crimes committed by underage offenders, and the CRC is the most universally accepted human rights treaty there is. (Only Somalia, and the good ole USA have failed to ratify this no-brainer of a human rights instrument; thankfully the US Supreme Court found executing child offenders unconstitutional – by a 5-4 vote – back in 2005). Iran has accepted this treaty, so why is this still happening?
That is the question a strong human rights movement inside Iran is asking, as they seek to end the execution of juvenile offenders. We can support this courageous effort by taking action on behalf of people like Delara Darabi, Abumoslem Sohrabi and Abbas Hosseini.