Iranian Activists Fight To Save Children From Execution

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TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian rights groups and lawyers have stepped up a campaign against execution of juvenile offenders hoping to save about 120 people convicted as minors who are now on death row, a lawyer behind the push said Wednesday.

Attorney Mohammad Mostafaei said five of the 120 face imminent execution for crimes they were convicted of committing as minors.

Iran is the world's biggest executioner of juvenile offenders. 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.

Mostafaei said the execution of juvenile offenders is a "blatant violation of international law" and a "flagrant breach of Iran's international obligations and commitments."

Iran signed two global conventions banning execution for crimes committed before the age of 18, but "unfortunately, the practice is carried out despite Iran's obligations," he said.

Mostafaei told The Associated Press that the he and dozens of other lawyers and activists have written to Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi demanding that executions of juveniles be abolished. There has been no response so far from authorities.

The activists have also demanded meetings with Iranian officials and have reached out to media to make their voice heard, Mostafaei said.

The United Nations has criticized Iran for executing juvenile offenders. It recently condemned the August executions of two juvenile offenders, Reza Hedjazi and Benham Zaare. Hedjazi was believed to be 15 at the time of his alleged crime, and Zaare a year older.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said both were convicted of murder several years ago and that Zaare was 19 when he was executed and Hedjazi about 20. The U.N. believes more than 220 people have been executed in 2008 in Iran so far.

Mostafaei said that at least six minors have been executed in 2008 and that 26 minors have been put to death in Iran since Jan. 2005.

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