The European Union on Tuesday condemned the public hanging last week of two Iranian teenagers who, according to human rights activists, were only 16 and 18, and it called on Tehran to cease such executions. However, Iran's top envoy to Belgium told foreign minister Karel De Gucht that the two teens, who were hanged on July 19—Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni—had been over 18 when they raped young boys.
Ebrahim Pour, Iran's charge d'affaires in Brussels, said Asgari and Marhoni were sentenced for kidnapping, rape, and homosexual activities, the Belgian Foreign Ministry said. "The charge d'affaires indicated that, according to information he had received from Tehran, the two persons were over 18 at the time of the acts," the ministry statement said after De Gucht had called the Iranian envoy on the carpet.
In 2004, Iran told the EU it would not execute or flog anyone under 18. The EU said Tuesday it hoped "a law abolishing such punishments will be adopted soon" and urged Tehran to respect a moratorium until then. "Capital punishment may not, in any circumstances, be imposed on persons below 18 years of age at the time...of their crime," the EU statement said. Gay rights and Iranian opposition groups have suggested that the rape charges against Asgari and Marhoni were meant to undermine public sympathy for the two and noted that executing minors violates the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Under Iranian law, girls over the age of 9 and boys over 15 face execution if they commit certain crimes, such as murder and rape. Capital punishment is also imposed, under certain conditions, for those engaging in illegal sexual relations. While there are no official figures on death sentences given to minors, human rights groups say about a dozen were executed in Iran last year.
Iranian rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said that as a result of the hangings, her Center for the Protection of Human Rights would intensify its fight against Iran's executions of minors. De Gucht also questioned Pour about investigative journalist Akbar Ganji, who was jailed in 2000 for reporting that intelligence officials had murdered five dissidents. Pour said Ganji was now receiving hospital treatment after several weeks on a hunger strike and must spend another year in jail. The EU called for Ganji's release on humanitarian grounds. (AP)