TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Teenagers found guilty of adult capital crimes in Iran will not be sentenced to death, but those committing murder under 18 may still face execution, a judiciary spokesman has said.
Last week, a judicial official suggested Iran was scrapping the death sentence for juveniles on all crimes, drawing praise from Western rights groups, but he subsequently appeared to backtrack.
Asked to clarify Iran's position, judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi said on October 21 that murderers under 18 could still be sentenced to death because Islamic law requires a victim's family have the right to retribution, or "qisas," and the right to commute murder sentences.
"We do not have execution on offences such as smuggling and so on for juveniles with the exception of [those involving] qisas," he said.
Iran has drawn Western criticism for sentencing youths under 18 to death, although Iran says it only carries out such a sentence when the prisoner has reached 18.
"The first point I must say is that no child is under the age of 18 at the time of the execution. Second, there is a difference between qisas and other offences punishable by execution in our legal system," Jamshidi told a news conference.
Drug smuggling and rape are among crimes punishable by death in the Islamic republic.
"With regard to qisas,... it is a right regarded in the Koran and other sources of jurisprudence as a private right. The sovereign has no right to intervene unless the next of kin of the person who has been murdered comes forward and forgive."
When New York-based Human Rights Watch welcome last week's announcement that appeared to end all juvenile death sentences, it also cautioned that a similar directive issued in 2004 had not stopped judges issuing death sentences against juveniles.
One Iranian lawyer said past directives issued by the judiciary had often been ignored because judges argued they were in conflict with Iran's Shari'a, Islamic law.
Iran regularly rejects accusations of rights abuses, saying it is implementing Shari'a. Tehran usually cites what it says are abuses by Western states to counter their criticism.
Since January 2005, Iran has been responsible for 26 of the 32 known executions of juvenile offenders worldwide, Human Rights Watch said, adding that six juvenile offenders had been executed in 2008.