Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

https://www.iranrights.org
Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran

About

Age: 24
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Married

Case

Date of Killing: October 2, 2018
Location of Killing: Orumieh Prison, Orumieh, Azarbaijan-e Gharbi Province, Iran
Mode of Killing: Hanging
Charges: Murder
Age at time of offense: 17

About this Case

got married when she was only 15 years old and was abused verbally and physically by her husband repeatedly.

The news of the execution of Mrs. Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran, daughter of Khatoon and Mohammad, was published on the websites of Mizan News Agency on October 7, 2018 and Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) on October 8, 2018. Additional information regarding this execution was obtained through Human Rights Activists News Agency- HRANA (October 2, 2018), Center for Human Rights in Iran (October 2, 2018), Kurdistan Human Rights Network (May 15 and October 4, 2016, and January 8, 2017), Iran Human Rights (October 7, 2016), and Amnesty International newsletters (October 11, 2016 and March 17, 2017).

Mrs. Sekaanvand was born on June 22, 1994 in a poor, traditional Kurdish family in the city of Maku in West Azerbaijan Province. She got married in February/March 2010 when she was just 15, and according to one of her relatives, she was abused verbally and physically by her husband (HRANA, Center for Human Rights in Iran, Amnesty International newsletter, October 11, 2016).

Mrs. Sekaanvand’s case was related to her husband’s death in the city of Urmia, West Azerbaijan Province, on February 24, 2012.

At the time of the incident, Mrs. Sekaanvand was 17 years old. International laws have strictly prohibited capital punishment for those who were under the age of 18 at the time of committing a crime. As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran has the obligation not to impose capital punishment for an offence committed before the age of eighteen.

On October 11, 2016, Amnesty International urged the Iranian authorities to stop execution of Mrs. Sekaanvand.

Mrs. Sekaanvand was held in a police station for 20 days, during which she was repeatedly beaten by police officers.

Arrest and detention

Information regarding the exact time and manner of arrest and detention of Mrs. Sekaanvand is contradictory.

According to Mrs. Sekaanvand’s lawyer, she turned herself into police on February 24, 2012. Based on Amnesty International’s report, Mrs. Sekaanvand was held in a police station for 20 days, during which she was repeatedly beaten by police officers. After 20 days, Mrs. Sekaanvand was transferred to Urmia Central Prison (Center for Human Rights in Iran, Amnesty International’s newsletter).

However, according to some other news agencies, Mrs. Sekaanvand was arrested on March 1, 2012, and spent the first two years of detention at the city of Khoy’s Prison and after the court order was issued, she was transferred to the women’s ward of Urmia Central Prison (HRANA, Kurdistan Human Rights Network, Iran Human Rights).

In 2015/2016, Mrs. Sekaanvand married a prisoner in the Urmia Central Prison and became pregnant, but due to psychological stress after the execution of one of her cellmates, the baby was born stillborn in Urmia on September 30, 2016. According to Amnesty International, Mrs. Sekaanvand was returned to prison one day after her delivery and was deprived of access to medical care and a psychologist (HRANA, Center for Human Rights in Iran, Iran Human Rights, and Kurdistan Human Rights Network- October 4, 2016).

Mrs. Sekaanvand was deprived of access to medical services during pregnancy and was examined by a doctor once. Two weeks before Mrs. Sekaanvand’s delivery, the prison’s health clinic made a request to send her to a hospital for examination and ultrasound, but prison authorities refused this request (Kurdistan Human Rights Network- October 4, 2016).

In January 2017, the authorities in Urmia Central Prison banned Mrs. Sekaanvand from weekly visits with her husband. The reason for such a decision was the widespread news about Mrs. Sekaanvand’s case in the foreign media and human rights organizations. In protest against this decision, Mrs. Sekaanvand had been on hunger strike since January 7, 2017 (Kurdistan Human Rights Network, January 8, 2017).

Mrs. Sekaanvand did not meet with her lawyer until the last session of the trial.

During the preliminary investigation, Mrs. Sekaanvand was denied access to a lawyer. Since she was not financially capable of recruiting a lawyer, the court appointed her a lawyer (Amnesty International newsletters, October 11, 2016 and Kurdistan Human Rights Network, January 8, 2017). Mrs. Sekaanvand did not meet with her lawyer until the last session of the trial (Amnesty International newsletters, March 17, 2017).

Trial

Branch Two of the Criminal Court in Urmia County tried Mrs. Sekaanvand in three sessions. The final court session was held on October 18, 2014 (Kurdistan Human Rights Network, October 4, 2016).

Charges

The charge brought against Mrs. Sekaanvand was “murder.”

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.  International human rights organizations have drawn attention to reports indicating that the Islamic Republic authorities have brought trumped-up charges, including drug trafficking, sexual, and other criminal offences, against their opponents (including political, civil society activists, as well as unionists and ethnic and religious minorities). Each year Iranian authorities sentence to death hundreds of alleged common criminals, following judicial processes that fail to meet international standards. The exact number of people convicted and executed based on trumped-up charges is unknown.

According to Mrs. Sekaanvand’s attorney, the judge ignored her reasoning about her client’s innocence.

Evidence of guilt

According to the official reports regarding this execution, the “explicit confession of the accused party” was used as the evidence against Mrs. Sekaanvand. The reports stated that Mrs. Sekaanvand had turned herself into police and that “at the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the court, she explained and confessed that following the murder she drove her car to a hospital and informed the police” (Mizan and ILNA News Agencies).

According to available information, Mrs. Sekaanvand had confessed that at the night of the incident, she and her husband were in her father-in-law’s house for dinner and after watching a movie, they returned to their home. Then they had an argument and she went off in a huff. When her husband noticed she was sad he “offered for her to tie his hands, feet, and eyes up and beat him so as to calm down. But after she tied her husband’s hands, feet, and eyes, she took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed twice in her husband’s throat, which eventually caused his death. Then she turned herself into police (Mizan and ILNA News Agencies).

Defense

Mrs. Sekaanvand was 17 years old at the time of the incident and the court tried and sentenced her without complying with the rules of procedure regarding juvenile offenders. Despite the fact that Mrs. Sekaanvand’s trial and conviction came after the passage of the 2013 Islamic Penal Code, it does not appear that the court applied Article 91 of that Code which empowers judges to issue an alternative sentence to the death penalty where a juvenile offender is found to have not understood the nature of the crime committed or their full mental development is uncertain.

According to Mrs. Sekaanvand’s attorney, the judge ignored her reasoning about her client’s innocence. She continued that Mrs. Sekaanvand could not have been a murderer for certain reasons, but that these reasons were not considered by the judge. In this report, Mrs. Sekaanvand’s attorney did not mention her arguments and reasons and stated: “I’m no longer willing to talk about them now. Those issues should have been considered when the case was under review” (Center for Human Rights in Iran).

According to the Iran Human Rights’ report, the court order issued for Mrs. Sekaanvand referred to her statements made during interrogations that she was beaten and abused by her husband, and even filed a complaint. However, the authorities do not appear to have conducted any investigations into the allegations of domestic abuse (Center for Human Rights in Iran).

Mrs. Sekaanvand repeatedly recanted her confessions.

A  source well-informed about Mrs. Sekaanvand’s case stated: “A reconstruction of the murder scene [was not carried out while she was in detention], and many doubts were raised as to why there were no blood spots on her clothing as well as to the direction of the knife wound on the victim’s body” (Center for Human Rights in Iran). In this regard, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network quoted Mrs. Sekaanvand’s court appointed lawyer: “Considering the fact that Zeinab was right-handed and the throat was cut from behind, the direction of the wound on the victim’s throat should be from left to right. However, the direction was from right to left, and shows that the victim’s throat had been cut from the front. If Zeinab’s confessions about cutting victim’s throat from behind were true, regardless of the direction of the knife’s movement, given that the wall behind Zeinab was bloody, her clothing should be bloody too, which was not at all the case. Another important point is that the other possible fingerprints on the knife have not been examined at all” (Kurdistan Human Rights Network, October 4, 2016).

According to available information, Mrs. Sekaanvand repeatedly recanted her confessions (Center for Human Rights in Iran). According to one of her cellmates, Mrs. Sekaanvand has consistently denied committing the murder since 2016, and told other prisoners that “she confessed instead of someone else, and never thought it would get her in such trouble” (Kurdistan Human Rights Network, January 8, 2017).

During police investigations, Mrs. Sekaanvand’s phone calls were tracked and this showed that she had regularly called her brother-in-law. The criminal prosecutor had raised the possibility of this person having been involved in the murder. Accordingly, the victim’s brother was also arrested, but eventually he was released due to lack of sufficient evidence. According to the court order issued against Mrs. Sekaanvand: “The defendant has sent a letter from prison mentioning that she was raped by her brother-in-law, and that he seduced her into having sex with him several times, and that her brother-in-law’s daughter knew about this, that her brother-in-law committed the murder the night of the incident, and that she did not play a role in her husband’s death” (Iran Human Rights, Amnesty International newsletters, October 11, 2016). At the court session, Mrs. Sekaanvand stated that her brother-in-law forced her to confess to the murder, and her brother-in-law had promised her that as the next of kin, he would not request qesas*. However, the court did not pay any attention to Mrs. Sekaanvand’s statements, and issued the order based on her initial confessions (Amnesty International newsletters, October 11, 2016).

Mrs. Sekaanvand was 24 years old at the time of the execution.

A Summary of the Defects of Ms. Zeinab Sekaanvand’s Legal Proceedings

According to available information, Ms. Zeinab Sekaanvand confessed to having committed murder at certain stages of the adjudication, and called the confession false at others, pointing the finger to her brother-in-law (her husband’s brother) as the murderer. According to reports, however, Zeinab Sekaanvand’s confession was one of the main reasons for her conviction, whereas pursuant to Iranian law, a confession can only be considered as evidence if made before the judge issuing a sentence in the case. In other words, if a defendant denies his/her previous confession at any stage of the proceedings, such confession can only be considered as circumstantial evidence and not evidence that can, solely on its own merit, be considered as proof of the commission of the crime.

At trial, Ms. Sekaanvand’s attorney described the circumstances of the murder and stated that the investigations that had been conducted were not sufficient. He claimed that his client was not the person who had committed murder. Ms. Sekaanvand’s attorney also claimed later that the court did not pay attention to his defense of his client.

According to available reports, Zeinab Sekaanvand was 17 years old at the time of the murder. Although the age of criminal responsibility in Iranian law is the age where an individual reaches puberty, and Ms. Sekaanvand had reached puberty at the time of the murder, the change in the Islamic Penal Code in 2013, provides individuals under the age of 18 with the possibility of being exempt from the death penalty. Pursuant to Article 91 of said Law, “In crimes requiring Hadd or Qesas, if the individuals under the age of 18 who have attained puberty cannot comprehend the nature of the crime or the prohibition thereof, or if there is doubt as to their mental development [and capacity] and maturity, they will be sentenced to the punishments prescribed in this chapter on a case by case basis. In order to ascertain mental development and maturity, the court may obtain the medical examiner’s opinion, or utilize any other method it deems appropriate.” Although the murder occurred prior to the passage of said Law, the Law does, however, apply retroactively, and covers final judgments issued prior to the passage of the Law. According to a Supreme Court General Council Uniform Procedure Decision, “Whereas Article 10(b) of the Islamic Penal Code of April 21, 2013 provides for exemption from crimes requiring Hadd and Qesas punishments in said Article’s opening provision, and whereas the powers prescribed for the sentence implementation judge in amending a sentence and/or the convicted individual’s right to ask the court for a reduced sentence as provided for in said paragraph is not in conflict with the Law on General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure Article 272, Paragraph 7, and does not nullify the same, therefore, in the event that individuals sentenced to Qesas, who were under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime and the final sentences in their cases were issued prior to the Islamic Penal Code of April 21, 2013, coming into force, claim the applicability of Article 91, since the modification and reduction of the sentence as provided for in said article ultimately constitutes a reduced sentence and a more favorable punishment, they may ask for de novo adjudication pursuant to Article 272(7) of the aforementioned Rules of Procedure...” (Uniform Procedure Decision number 737, December 2, 2014, Supreme Court General Council). In the present case, it appears that judicial authorities did not believe that Zeinab Sekaanvand was not mentally developed and mature at the time of the murder. Generally speaking, however, a 17-year-old individual can hardly understand the nature of his/her actions as would an adult. There is no unified procedure in Iranian courts to ascertain a person’s mental development and maturity. What courts generally take into account is the defendant’s conduct at the time of the murder and thereafter. Lack of a unified procedure, and not making proper use of specialized medical and psychological capabilities, has resulted in certain defendants under the age of 18 being found as lacking mental development and maturity in certain cases, and as mentally developed and mature in other similar cases, and therefore subject to the death penalty. It therefore appears that Article 91 is not applied to certain juvenile offenders in a methodical and well thought out manner. Furthermore, pursuant to Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran became a signatory in 1993, issuance of a death sentence for individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime is prohibited. Additionally, according to Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it is prohibited to issue a sentence of death for individuals under the age of 18. Even though the Iranian government made certain reservations when becoming a party to both of these conventions, violation of these conventions constitutes, however, a breach of its obligations and of international laws and regulations.

Judgment

On October 22, 2014, Branch Two of the Criminal Court in Urmia sentenced Mrs. Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran to qesas. The sentence was upheld by Branch Seven of the Supreme Court on July 20, 2015 (Kurdistan Human Rights Network, October 4, 2016 and Amnesty International newsletters).

Mrs. Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran was hanged in Urmia Central Prison on October 2, 2018.

Mrs. Sekaanvand was 24 years old at the time of the execution.

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*   Article 351 of the Islamic Penal Code: “Next of kin is the victim’s heir with the exception of victim’s husband or wife, who does not have the right to qesas”.
Article 347 of the Islamic Penal Code: “The owner of the qesas right may not exercise his right at any stage of the prosecution, trail, or implementation of the court order in return for any right or property.”

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