When Razieh Ebrahimi was 14 years old, she was married off to her 28-year-old neighbor. Although Razieh initially refused, her father insisted and soon she was in the clutches of a man who, according to Razieh, would repeatedly rape and abuse her for years to come.
Pregnant at 15 and trapped into an endless cycle, every day began to feel like torture for her. At the age of 17, unable to handle her humiliation and anger any longer, she picked up a gun, snuck up behind her sleeping husband, and shot him in the head. Later that night, she buried him in their garden.
When the police caught wind of her crime, she was arrested. Fully admitting to her guilt, but blaming it on years of mental and physical abuse, she conceded that she wished she could explain it to her son. Held in the city of Ahvaz for the past four years, she lamented, “I haven’t been able to see him even once, and because of this I am sorry.”
Razieh was sentenced to death for her crimes, and has taken the walk to her execution before. She was only saved when she told the officials she was a minor during the crime. As Human Rights Watch explains: “A source familiar with Ebrahimi’s case told Human Rights Watch that prison authorities attempted earlier to carry out her execution, but when she informed them that she was 17 when she killed her husband they returned her to her cell. The source said that following recent changes to Iran’s penal code the lawyer requested a retrial from the Supreme Court on the basis that she had been under 18 and did not understand the consequences of her actions, but the court refused.”
Revisiting Razieh’s court case made sense, when Article 91 (regarding the executions of minors) was amended by Iranian courts. The head of the judiciary in the country had long urged that executions not be handed down to those under 18, and in some cases Article 91’s laws have been changed to reflect that. However, the wording is vague and only calls for a suspension on the death penalty in cases regarding drugs and ‘discretionary crimes.’
Article 91 still clearly states that children may be sentenced to death if they ‘understood’ the crime they committed. Even more abhorrent are the ages that this code puts in place. Boys as young as 15 years old can be sentenced to death, and for girls the mind-boggling age of nine is the legal minimum.
And even though child executions are illegal under international law, Iran leads the world in executing minors. Since 2009, there have been 10 such executions on the official level, and whispers of far more occurring under the radar.
This case is also compounded by Iranian marriage laws, which states that girls as young as 13 and boys at the age of 15 can be married. Her father didn’t do anything illegal by marrying her off that young, and her husband was well within the legal limits to take her as a wife.
Under the Sharia portion of Iranian law, if the family of her husband had forgiven her, or ‘pardoned’ her, the courts would drop all charges. Iran has seen a number of dramatic pardons in the past, with one mother of the victim waiting until the murderer was in the noose, before slapping him across the face and giving him back his life.
However, in this case it remains unlikely that any last minute pardons from her husband’s family will take place, as they’ve refused to forgive her thus far. Instead, what her lawyer is pleading for is simply a retrial for her life. Reziah, now 21 years old, has been told she’s in imminent danger of execution. And with the government refusing her lawyer’s requests, there isn’t much hope surrounding this case.
Stories such as these are not that uncommon in Iran, due to the prevalence of child brides attempting to break free from the confines of abusive marriages they’ve never consented to. And as long as child marriage laws remain inhumane, it’s likely we’ll see situations similar to Razieh’s again and again.