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Spared by chief justice, Iranian hangs anyway

Less than a month after Iran’s chief justice spared the life of a man condemned to die for sex crimes allegedly committed at age 13, the young man was reportedly hanged. Mike Stuckey reports.
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Less than a month after Iran’s chief justice spared the life of a 21-year-old condemned to die for sex crimes allegedly committed at age 13, the young man was reportedly hanged Wednesday morning at a prison in Kermanshah province.

"This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of a number of human rights watchdogs that had focused attention on the case. Just last month, Ettelbrick had labeled the reversal of the young man’s death sentence a “stunning victory for human rights and a reminder of the power of global protest.”

Word of Makvan Mouloodzadeh’s death came from family members who were notified by prison authorities and relayed the news to his attorney, Saeid Eghbali, who in turn passed it along to Western contacts. The execution also was reported on the Persian language Web site of Mitra Khalatbari, a Tehran-based journalist who first reported on the case in Iran.

Hossein Alizadeh, a spokesman for the gay and lesbian rights group, said the execution appeared to have been hurriedly carried out by local authorities to avoid further interference by Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Sharudi, Iran’s chief justice. It was Sharudi, in the wake of a lengthy appeal from Eghbali and growing international pressure, who ruled Nov. 10 that the trial and sentencing of Mouloodzadeh violated Iranian law and Islamic teachings.

Mouloodzadeh was convicted at a closed trial in June of numerous acts of rape and sodomy that allegedly occurred when he was 13, charges that were initiated by an angry cousin. Homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran, but only under a strict legal protocol, and the alleged sex partners and rape victims all later denied the charges against Mouloodzadeh. But the trial judge used a legal maneuver to find Mouloodzadeh guilty and sentence him to death anyway. Some observers believe the case was really rooted in retaliation for anti-government political activity by relatives of the defendant.

Sharudi’s ruling was supposed to be reviewed by a bureau of the justice department and scheduled for retrial, Alizadeh said. But with attorney Eghbali suspecting heavy lobbying from local authorities, “the legal body decided to ignore the chief justice’s decision and ratify the court’s decision,” said Alizadeh, who saw the execution as “defiance” of Sharudi’s ruling. Proof of that was the hurried, non-public nature of Mouloodzadeh’s hanging, he said.

“The execution was supposed to be carried out in public in the city where Makvan was born,” Alizadeh said. “But I think that they realized that it was going to take a few days and the chief justice could have intervened again.”

Neither the condemned man’s family nor his attorney, Eghbali, was told about the execution until after it had occurred, according to Alizadeh, who spoke with Eghbali and journalist Khalatbari after the hanging.’s requests for comment via telephone and e-mail to the Mission of Iran at the United Nations in New York were not answered Wednesday.

The pre-dawn execution came as the Muslim nation basked in vindication of a U.S. intelligence review released earlier this week that concluded Iran stopped developing an atomic weapons program in 2003. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called the report a "declaration of victory" for Iran's nuclear program, the focus of extensive saber-rattling recently by the Bush administration.

Nuclear, military distractions
"The Iranian government is taking advantage of that story and violating people’s basic rights,” Alizadeh said. “Since the start of the nuclear crisis, the international community has paid less and less attention to the human rights issues and more and more to the military and nuclear issues with Iran.”

Of particular concern to groups like Alizadeh’s is what appears to be a surge in Iran of executions for crimes alleged to have occurred when the perpetrators were children. With Mouloodzadeh’s death, Iran has now executed 18 such young men and women in the past four years, according to Human Rights Watch. According to Amnesty International, Sudan has executed two juvenile offenders in the same time period, while China, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia executed one each. The United States last executed a person for crimes committed as a juvenile in 2003.