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Iranian Woman's Execution Imminent For Crime Committed At Age 17

Delara Darabi was handed a death sentence in 2003'
A young Iranian woman faces imminent execution, five years after being convicted of committing murder at the age of 17.

Delara Darabi's lawyer, Abdolsamad Khoramshah, was quoted as saying on April 16 that her death sentence has been confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The case has alarmed human rights activists, and put the spotlight on Iran, one of the few countries that executes people for crimes committed as juveniles.

Darabi will be executed by April 20 unless the family of the elderly woman she was convicted of murdering at the age of 17 decides to pardon her.

Along with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Amir Hossein Sotoudeh, Darabi allegedly burgled the home of an elderly female relative -- the cousin of Darabi's father -- and the woman was stabbed to death in the process.


Darabi initially confessed to the murder, and was convicted of the crime and handed a death sentence in 2003, despite her subsequent retraction of her confession.

Darabi claimed that Sotoudeh had persuaded her to admit to the murder and told her that she would not face the death penalty because of her age.

Darabi's lawyer, Khoramshah, says her conviction is based solely on the confession she made. He says the death sentence was issued despite an incomplete criminal investigation and shortcomings in the proceedings.

"We have to see whether the confession she made conforms with realities or not," Khoramshah tells Radio Farda.

"It is very unlikely that the murder was committed by a girl with a frail body. A strong young man was there. How is it possible that the murder was done by a weak girl?"

Darabi's tragic fate has brought her fame and made her a symbol of the dozens of juvenile offenders who currently face execution in Iran.

Google Darabi's name and you will find thousands of entries, articles, and blogs about her in different languages.

Life Story Through Painting

On death row, she has told the story of her life through her paintings, most of them dark.

In 2006, rights activists organized an exhibition of her work in Tehran in order to bring attention to her situation and to protest against her innocence.

In a welcome message to visitors, Darabi described her paintings as an "an oath to a crime I didn't commit."
It is very unlikely that the murder was committed by a girl with a frail body. A strong young man was there. How is it possible that the murder was done by a weak girl?

Khoramshahi says the years Darabi has spent in jail with a death sentence hanging over her head has taken its toll on the young artist. She reportedly attempted to commit suicide in her cell in 2007.

"Bearing prison is very difficult for a girl who was studying and at the age of 17 ended up behind prison bars. Delara's three sisters and her parents have been also [affected] by her situation, they're psychologically distressed," Khoramshahi says.

Delara's father has, in a letter, called on the head of Iran's judiciary to stave off her execution. He says living is very difficult, knowing that his 23-year-old child has been sentenced to death.

His daughter has spent the best years of her life in prison, he says, and has been denied the possibility of having a positive role in society.

Her lawyer has called on artists and others who want to save Darabi's life to try to convince the family of the victim to give up their demand for "qesas" (retribution) and let her live.

Iranians have also launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter to spare Darabi's life.

Darabi is just one of over 70 juvenile offenders facing execution in the Islamic republic, according to human rights groups.

In many cases, juvenile offenders convicted of murder are kept in jail until they are 18, and subsequently executed. In the past several years, a few cases have been reported where offenders were executed before turning 18.

However, there have been cases of some sentences being overturned and some young offenders being saved at the last minute.

Rights groups say that by executing juvenile offenders, Iran violates its international obligations. According to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iran has signed, neither "capital punishment nor life imprisonment without the possibility of release" should be imposed for offenses committed by persons below the age of 18.

In a 2007 report, Amnesty International described Iran as the "last executioner of children," which it defines as anyone under the age of 18.

Radio Farda broadcaster Amir Zamanifar contributed to this report
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.