updated 10/18/2008 4:22:48 PM ET 2008-10-18T20:22:48

A new Iranian judicial directive bans the execution of juvenile offenders for drug crimes but keeps capital punishment for those convicted of murder, a top judiciary official said Saturday.

Hossein Zabhi, Deputy State Public Prosecutor, told The Associated Press that the judges are still required under Iran's Islamic laws to issue death sentences for minors convicted of murder if the victim's family refuses financial compensation.

Iran executes more juveniles than any other nation in the world. While a few other countries still execute minors — including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and Pakistan — Iran has accounted for more than two-thirds of such executions in the past three years, according to international rights groups.

"The new directive bans execution of under 18 criminals only if they have committed crimes related to narcotics that carry death penalty," Zabhi told the AP, although he said no one under 18 has ever been executed for a drug-related crime.

Iran's penal code follows Islamic law and the final say in capital punishment cases goes to the victim's family, which can pardon the perpetrator or accept compensation in lieu of execution.

"We can't deny a victim's family of the legal right to ask for Islamic qisas, or eye for eye retribution," said Zabhi.

The new directive, initially issued more than a year ago but announced Saturday, doesn't affect the 120 minors currently on death row, according to Zabhi. He didn't say why it took more than a year to make such a directive public.

"Life imprisonment will be the punishment for juveniles convicted of first rate drug crimes," said Zabhi.

Mohammad Mostafaei, a lawyer who has launched a campaign against execution of juveniles, welcomed the new directive but said it was not sufficient.

"Human rights activists won't give up the fight until execution of under 18 people is abolished altogether in Iran," he said.

Mostafaei said Iran has signed two global conventions banning capital punishment for crimes committed before the age of 18, but the practice continues.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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