Omid, a memorial in defense of human rights in Iran
One Person’s Story

Behnud Shoja'i


Age: 21
Nationality: Iran
Religion: Presumed Muslim
Civil Status: Single


Date of Execution: October 11, 2009
Location: Evin Prison, Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Mode of Execution: Hanging
Charges: Murder
Age at time of offense: 17

Human rights violations in this case

The Legal Context

The Courts


Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 11 February 1979-1994


In the immediate aftermath of the 11 February 1979 Revolution, an ad hoc tribunal, initially referred to as the Extraordinary Revolutionary Tribunal, was set up to try the officials of the previous regime, for which no specific procedures were devised. In a decree dated 24 February 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolutionary religious leader, appointed a cleric as Shari’a Judge and instructed him “to issue Shari’a-based rulings,” thereby establishing the foundation of a system of special courts.


Initially, the revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction was determined by the religious judge’s interpretation of the Shari’a (Islamic law based on the teachings of the Qur’an, the traditions of the Prophet, the 12 imams, and the teachings of Shi’a scholars. On 17 June 1979, the Revolutionary Courts and the Prosecutor’s Office Rules of Procedure, which was only selectively observed, established the latter’s jurisdiction and make-up.


The Courts’ jurisdiction encompassed a wide array of offenses including moharebeh (“waging war with God”), efsad e fel arz (“spreading corruption on Earth”), crimes against national and international security, economic crimes, murder, profiteering, prostitution, rape, and narcotic drugs-related crimes. The law required that two of the three principal members of the Revolutionary Courts be Shari’a judges.



Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 1994-2002


With the adoption of the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994, and the Code of Criminal Procedure for General and Revolutionary Courts of 19 September 1999, a uniform code of procedure was applied to both revolutionary and general courts. The jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts was limited to 6 categories of offenses:

1. Crimes against national and international security,“moharebeh” (enmity with god) and “efsad e fel arz” (corruption on earth;)

2. defaming Ayatollah Khomeini and the Supreme Leader;

3. plotting against the Islamic Republic of Iran, armed action, terrorism, and sabotage;

4. espionage;

5. smuggling and drug-related crimes; 6. claims under Principle 49 (economic crimes) of the Constitution.

 6. Furthermore, pursuant to the Law on the Manner of Punishing Individuals Engaged in Unauthorized Audio and Visual Activities, Article 11, the revolutionary courts have jurisdiction over crimes that fall within the purview of said Law, including production and distribution of obscene materials and misuse and abuse thereof.

These courts continued, however, to try cases falling outside their jurisdiction, such as theft and sexual offenses. Further, the vagueness of laws regarding national security allowed the revolutionary courts to try political and media crimes whenever they wished to do so.


The new law eliminated the Prosecutor’s Office and gave the judges inthe Revolutionary Courts the power to perform the duties of the prosecutor, as well as their own, in any case brought before them.


Islamic Revolutionary Courts, 2002-Present


The Amended Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 2002 reinstated the Prosecutor’s Office in both revolutionary and general courts. In cases involving political and media crimes, revolutionary courts’ jurisdiction overlaps with that of Province Criminal Courts.


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014, and its coming into force in June 2015, the jurisdiction of the revolutionary courts remains unchanged, with slight modifications in procedural aspects of adjudication. For instance, the new law provides that for crimes subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, or higher, the revolutionary court shall convene with three judges, whereas, prior to the passage of this law, adjudication of all crimes within the jurisdiction of revolutionary courts took place with only a single judge.

The Appellate System of Revolutionary Courts, 1979-Present


From their inception until 1994, the rulings of the Revolutionary Courts were not subject to appeal. In the early 1980s a court entitled the Supreme Court of Qom was established in the city of Qom and which reviewed cases of execution and confiscation of properties, thereby forming a first tier form of appeal. The exact date of the creation of the court is not clear, but, based on available information, the court became operational in the early 1980s, even though Ayatollah Khomeini's official order for its creation is dated 1985. The court’s procedure was not systematic and did not meet the international standards for a court of appeals; there was no official record of its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Qom was dissolved in 1989.


The Law of 14 June 1994 subjected the Courts’ decisions to appeal. An appellate court was established at each provincial capital, called the Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by the Revolutionary Courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those involving capital punishment.


Narcotic drugs-related crimes constitute a significant exception to the appeals process. Governed by the Anti-Narcotic Drugs Law of 1988, as Amended on 8 November 1997 and 31 July 3 2010, these crimes are within the jurisdiction of, and are adjudicated on a regular basis by, Revolutionary Courts whose decisions are final. After being handed down by the judge, death sentences are sent to the Prosecutor General or the Head of the Supreme Court as a matter of administrative approval.


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 (and its coming into force in June 2015), however, drug related crimes became subject to appeal as well.

General Courts, 1979-1982


In cases not falling under the jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Courts, the system devised under the previous regime continued to function in parallel with new systems devised by laws passed by the Judicial Council, one of which, entitled The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, radically changed the entire structure and categorization of the courts. It divided the courts in three branches: Criminal, Civil, and Peace (a sort of arbitration court dealing with minor financial and other disputes). Specialized courts such as family courts were eliminated.


General Courts, 1982-1994


The Law of the Amendments to the Rules of Criminal Procedure of 1982 established a new criminal courts system, Criminal Courts I and II. Criminal Court I, established only in provincial capitals, had jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Criminal Court II heard less serious crimes.


General Courts, 1994-2002


The Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 14 June 1994 established umbrella courts called General Courts, which replaced and dissolved pre-existing civil and criminal courts. The law dissolved the Prosecutor’s offices and tasked a single person with the roles of judge, prosecutor, and investigator.


General Courts, 2002-2015


In 2002, the 1994 Law was amended, reviving the role of the Prosecutor’s Office in General Courts. The prosecution offices were re-established in a gradual process over several years. The amended law also re-established specialized branches within general courts dealing separately with criminal and civil matters. In addition, this law allocated a number of branches of the Province Court of Appeals to have original jurisdiction over a number of cases including the most serious offenses, as well as political and media crimes. In these cases, the branches are called the Province Criminal Court.


General Courts, 2015 to Today


With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, general courts underwent certain changes as well. Criminal courts were divided into Criminal Court One, Criminal Court Two, Military Court, Juvenile Court, and Revolutionary Court. Criminal Court One has jurisdiction over serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, life imprisonment, amputation, third degree, and higher, as well as political and media crimes. Criminal Court Two has jurisdiction over other crimes. Another change consists of the establishment of juvenile courts, which adjudicates crimes committed by individuals less than 18 years of age. In cases where the individuals less than 18 commit serious crimes such as those subject to the death penalty, however, Criminal Court One will have jurisdiction, observing rules of juvenile criminal procedure.


The Appellate System of General Courts, 1979-Present


The Legal Bill for the Establishment of General Courts of 11 September 1979, abolished appeal of most criminal courts’ decisions. The law of 1982 restricted the appeal possibility even further. According to the Islamic Republic authorities’ interpretation of Islamic Law, a qualified jurist’s decisions were not subject to appeal except under special circumstances, such as when the judge realized his own mistake, or another judge advised him so, or when he did not have jurisdiction over the case. Even in such situations, the case would not go to a higher court but would be subject to review by the same judge or another judge at his level. The judges were even urged to call their verdicts “opinions,” so that the possible change in the verdict would not be “haram” (“sinful,” the highest level of prohibition in Islam, disobedience of which would result in a sin).


In October 1988, the Majles (Iranian parliament) passed a law regarding review of court judgments. This law provided for an appeal if the conviction was claimed to be based on invalid documentation or false testimony. The defendant could also base an appeal on a point of law or a procedural violation.


The appellate system was expanded in other laws in the late 1980s and in 1993. The Law for the Establishment of Criminal Courts I and II of 11 July 1989 created the Branches of the Supreme Court. Crimes of less importance, tried in Criminal Court II, were subject to review by Criminal Court I.


For the most important crimes involving death punishment, which were under the jurisdiction of Criminal Court I, the law allowed limited appeal to the Branches of the Supreme Court. Defendants had the right to petition the Supreme Court for appeal in certain cases involving false testimony or procedural violations, and if granted, the case would be remanded to either another criminal court or the original one.


Finally, the Law for the Establishment of General and Revolutionary Courts of 1994, as amended in 2002, established an appellate court at each provincial capital, called Province Court of Appeals, composed of a three-judge panel, to review decisions made by both general and revolutionary courts. The Supreme Court was designated as the appellate authority for particular decisions, including those carrying the death penalty, as well as decisions made by the Province Criminal Court.


The amended law of 2002, continued the appellate procedure to the Branches of the Supreme Court established by the afore-mentioned law of 11 July 1989


The Supreme Court continues to be the competent authority to rule on new trials, which have been provided for in limited circumstances.

With the passage of the new Rules of Criminal Procedure in 2014 and its coming into force in June 2015, the Court of Appeals shall be the competent authority to hear appeals from Criminal Court Two decisions, and the Supreme Court shall hear appeals from Criminal Court One decisions.

Special Courts for the Clergy


These courts are rooted in a 1979 decree, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, which established a committee of religious and noble figures in every region to purge the clergy of anti-revolutionary elements under the supervision of the Revolutionary Courts. Between late 1981 and 1984, a special court in the city of Qom handled, though not systematically, the trial of clerics.


On 29 July 1987, Ayatollah Khomeini officially appointed a prosecutor and a member of the clergy as Shari’a judge for Special Courts for the Clergy. On 6 August 1990, a directive was issued regulating the conduct of these courts, the jurisdictional ambiguity of which is such that it effectively extends to “anyone where one of the parties is a cleric” and to “all matters in which the Court is designated as competent by the Supreme Leader.”


The court, which was not mentioned in the Islamic Republic's constitution, was mandated to try “pseudo clerics, those related to/connected with the clergy, for public and/or anti-revolutionary crimes, and violations of the prestige of the clergy,” and where the principal suspect is a member of the clergy, “any co-conspirator or assistant, whether a cleric or not.”


These courts are generally not open to the public and can issue sentences for all acts and omissions punishable under codified Iranian laws or Shari’a or for any other acts or omissions which can bring dishonor to the clergy or to the Islamic Revolution. Further, in certain particular cases – which have not been defined – where no punishment has been devised by either the Penal Code or even the Shari’a, the Court “can rule as it deems fit.” 


The Appellate System of the Special Court for the Clergy, 1979-Present


There is no information on any appeal process for the Special Court for the Clergy prior to the 1990 directive. Article 49 of said directive set up, however, an appeals court called Special Appellate Court for the Clergy, the head of which is appointed by the Supreme Leader, to which the decisions of the lower court can be appealed.


Military Courts


The military court system, independent from the judiciary under the previous regime, became a part of it on 1 December 1981. The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces, established in 1986, replaced and merged other military courts and tribunals in existence at the time, namely the pre-revolution Judiciary Organization of the Army, the Revolutionary Tribunal of the Army (established on 8 December 1979), and the Revolutionary and General Court for the Revolutionary Guards (established on 15 July 1979.) The Judiciary Organization of the Armed Forces has its own Criminal Code and follows the country’s general rules of criminal procedure.


The Law of the Criminal Procedure of the Armed Forces of 15 May 1985 created Military Courts I and II. Military Court I has jurisdiction over more serious offenses, including those punishable by death, and Military Court II hears less serious crimes.


The Appellate System of Military Courts, 1979-Present


The law of 8 December 1979, establishing the Revolutionary Military Court, did not provide for any appeals. The Law of 15 May 1985 created a system of appeals through the creation of a two-tier system of courts. The decisions of Military Court II were subject to review by Military Court I. This law also provided that multiple Branches of the Supreme Court be designated as the appellate court to review decisions of Military Court I.


The judges


1979-1997: Prosecutors and judges are not necessarily law graduates and jurists. Shortly after the Islamic Revolution, a five-member Committee was established to purge the judicial system of undesirable elements, pursuant to the Legal Bill for the Modification of the Judiciary and the Law for Hiring Judges of 8 March 1979. The power of the committee was absolute and its decisions, resulting in a widespread purge of the judiciary, final.


The Law for the Conditions of Selection of Judges of 4 May 1981 established the conditions of eligibility for judges. The latter were to be hired among men who were legitimate children and had practical commitment to Islam and allegiance to the Islamic Republic. The law, which led to the hiring of clerics and Islamic legal scholars, also allowed hiring practically anyone as a judge who could “obtain the Judicial High Council’s permission.” Moreover, Note 2 of the Amendments of 4 October 1982 to this law allowed widespread employment of seminary students “who ha[d] general knowledge equivalent to a high school diploma” as judges at prosecutor’s offices in general as well as Revolutionary Courts.  


By 1989, the judiciary counted about 2,000 new judges trained in theological seminaries (graduates and students) and political appointees, many having replaced judges trained in law schools.


1997-Present: As of this writing (2013) the Law for Hiring Judges and its amendments of 4 October 1982, 7 February 1987, and 9 May 1988 are in full force and form the basis for hiring judges. The Executive Rules of Procedure of 22 December 1997 subjected such hiring to passing an entrance examination and successful completion of an apprenticeship program, the duration of which ranges between one and two years. The law does not limit hiring to men only but does not specify in what capacity women will be functioning, other than an advisory one.

Currently, judges are selected in accordance with the Guidelines on the Recruitment, Selection, and Internship for Judicial Candidates and the Hiring of Judges.


Dismissal of Judges: From 1979 to 1989, the judiciary was run by the Supreme Judicial Council which was composed of the head of the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor General (both of whom were appointed by the Supreme Leader), and three judges elected by the entire body of judges in the country. The Council had the power to hire and dismiss judges in accordance with the law.


The constitutional reforms of 1989 substituted the Supreme Judicial Council with one person, the Head of the Judiciary. The Supreme Leader, whose mandate is not subject to popular vote, appoints the Head of the Judiciary for a 5-year term. The latter has significant power to influence the dismissal of judges. Dismissal cases are referred to three types of disciplinary courts, presided over by judges appointed by the Head of the Judiciary, who has veto power over any decisions made by the relevant courts.


Two of these courts, established in 1991 and 2011, are charged with examining the judges’ conduct from a religious and ideological standpoint. The process does not necessarily involve the defendant and the final decision, left to the Head of the Judiciary, is not subject to appeal.


Human rights violations

Based on the available information, the following human rights may have been violated in this case:

  • The right to equality before the law and the right to equal protection of the law.

UDHR, Article 7; ICCPR, Article 26.

The right to due process

  • The right to be presumed innocent until found guilty by a competent and impartial tribunal in accordance with law.

ICCPR, Article 14.1 and Article 14.2.

Pre-trial detention rights

  • The right to know promptly and in detail the nature and cause of the charges against one.

UDHR, Article 9(2); ICCPR, Article 9.2 and Article 14.3.a

  • The right to counsel of one’s own choosing or the right to legal aid. The right to communicate with one’s attorney in confidence

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b and Article 14.3.d; Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Article 1, Article 2, Article 5, Article 6, and Article 8.

  • The right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defense case.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.b.

  • The right not to be compelled to testify against oneself or to confess to guilt.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.g.

  • The right not to be subjected to torture and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

Trial rights

  • The right to a fair and public trial without undue delay.

ICCPR, Article 14.1, Article 14.3.c.

  • The right to examine, or have examined, the witnesses against one, and the right to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on one’s behalf under the same conditions as prosecution witnesses.

ICCPR, Article 14.3.d and Article 14.3.e.

  • The right to have the decision rendered in public.

ICCPR, Article 14.1.

Judgment rights

Capital punishment
  • The inherent right to life, of which no one shall be arbitrarily deprived.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 3; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6.1; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, Article 1.1, Article 1.2.

  • The right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

ICCPR, Article 7; Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, Article 1 and Article 2.

  • The right of a person not to be subjected to the capital punishment for an offence committed before the age of eighteen. The right not to be deprived of life while pregnant.

ICCPR, Article 6.5; Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 37.a.

About this Case

News of Mr. Behnud Shoja’i’s execution was published by Fars News Agency (October 11, 2009), Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog (October 11 and 22, 2009), and Iska News (October 11, 2009)*

Mr. Shoja’i was 21 years old. He was the family’s only child and had lost his mother at the age of 14; he lived with his grandmother. His case was about a group fight at Tehran’s Vanak Park on August 18, 2005, which resulted in the murder of a 17-year-old youth. At the time of the murder, Mr. Shoja’i was 17.

One of Behnud’s prison mates says that he was calm in prison and did not cry. He prayed. In contrast to many other youths who become addicted to drugs and learn numerous other crimes, [not only did] Behnud [not care about that], he didn’t care about anything, and was constantly calling to God. He had a yellow prayer book. He was very shy and quiet, and everyone liked him very much.

After Mr. Shoja’i’s death sentence was announced on September 26, 2006, news media inside Iran, civil society activists, athletes, famous movie stars, and even [the city of] Kerman Mosque’s board of trustees, made numerous efforts to stop [the implementation of] the sentence and to raise public awareness of it. Journalists and civil society activists also issued bulletins and declarations to stay the execution, pointing to Mr. Shoja’i’s young age at the time of the fight, and asking the authorities to stop his death sentence.

Because of the defendant’s young age, this case attracted public opinion outside the country as well. In May-June 2008, the European Union issued a declaration against the pronouncement of death sentences for defendants who were under the legal age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime, accusing Iran of breaching its international obligations, and demanding the revocation of Mr. Shoja’i’s death sentence. Furthermore, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights cautioned Iran that, in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issuance of a death sentence is prohibited for defendants who were under the age of 18 when they committed the crime. Amnesty International also issued a bulletin condemning Mr. Shoja’i’s death sentence.

Arrest and detention

Subsequent to the fight that occurred on August 18, 2005 in Vanak Park, Behnud’s father turned him in to judicial authorities in order [for them] to investigate the fight and for justice to be carried out. (Oliae’ifard interview with Rooz Online). The date of his arrest is not known. He was 17 at the time and spent nearly 10 months at Kanun-e Eslah va Tarbiat-e Tehran (“Tehran Correction and Education Center”) until he reached 18, and was then transferred to Gohardasht Prison where he was incarcerated until the time the sentence was carried out. He spent four and a half years in jail after his arrest. According to his father, he had visitations and was allowed to talk to his family for 20 minutes from behind the glass window, and was allowed face to face visitation every 45 days. One of Mr. Shoja’i’s prison mates described the prison conditions as hell: The prisoner is facing the danger of contracting a multitude of illnesses including AIDS, drug addiction, and depression. Also, weaker kids are subjected to all kinds of harassments. Mr. Shoja’i had also talked about awful prison conditions. (Behnud Shoja’i Interview with Saba Vassefi).


Mr. Shoja’i’s first trial session took place on February 15, 2006 at Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 74, presided by the Branch’s chief judge. The Prosecutor’s representative and the victim’s parents were also present. The Prosecutor’s representative first read the indictment, and in closing, asked for the harshest punishment, given the next of kin’s complaint and the Medical Examiner’s opinion. Then the victim’s parents asked that the defendant be hanged in public. Mr. Shoja’i was then allowed to present his defense. Finally, at the end of the trial session, the presiding judge and the four other judges started consultations [among themselves]. (Iska News, February 15, 2006). Mr. Shoja’i had an attorney. (Rooz Online, October 13, 2009)

Mr. Shoja’i’s last trial session took place on Tuesday, September 26, 2006, again at Branch 74. The presiding judge was the same person. The Prosecutor’s representative first described the indictment; the victim’s parents still wanted the death penalty for their son’s murderer. Behnud was also allowed to defend himself. Mr. Shoja’i’s attorney was also present at the session and presented a defense on his behalf. There were also two witnesses who gave testimony. At the end of the session, the judges started consultations. (Iska News, January 23, 2007).

Since Mr. Shoja’i was deprived of legal representation after the sentence was upheld at the Court of Appeals (his attorney resigned after the issuance and approval of the sentence at the Criminal Court), on August 1, 2008, he himself submitted a written request to the Province Criminal Court Branch 74 for the implementation of Article 18, which provides for re-opening the case and a re-trial. At the bottom of his request, the chief judge issued an order for the implementation of Article 18, which meant that, pursuant to this Article, the case was to be sent to the competent authority, that is, the Prosecutor General’s Office. Mr. Shoja’i’s lawful request was overlooked, however, and his right to a re-trial and re-opening the adjudication process was denied.


The Sentence Implementation Office judge for Tehran Prosecutor’s Office for Criminal Matters declared Mr. Behnud Shoja’i’s charge to be “Intentional Murder.” (Fars News Agency, December 22, 2007)

The validity of the criminal charges brought against this defendant cannot be ascertained in the absence of the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

Evidence of guilt

Evidence against Mr. Shoja’i consisted of “the police report,” “the victim’s parents’ complaint,” “the defendant’s confession,” “eyewitness testimony,” and “the Medical Examiner’s report.” Two of the witnesses stated that the defendant was the one who perpetrated the murder.

International human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran for its systematic use of severe torture and solitary confinement to obtain confessions from detainees and have questioned the authenticity of confessions obtained under duress.


Mr. Shoja’i defended himself in both trial sessions, denying the charge of intentional murder, and stating that he had resorted to the broken soft drink bottle in self defense. His goal had been to scare the other person, not killing anyone. The victim had insulted his dead mother, making him angry; and he had inflicted one blow to the deceased. His attorney stated in his defense that all the participants in the fight were armed with knives that day, and asked that the court hear the testimony of the eyewitnesses. (Iska News, October 11, 2009)

About two years after the issuance of the sentence and its upholding by the Court of Appeals, two other lawyers took on Mr. Shoja’i’s defense in April-May 2008. (Mr. Oliae’ifard’s interview with Rooz Online), (Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog)

Both of Mr. Shoja’i’s attorneys stated in his defense, that there were defects and ambiguities in his case, and that the judges had not paid any attention to the two briefs they had submitted in this regard to the Head of the Judiciary and the Supreme Court. (Rooz Online)

Not only did [the attorneys] question the intentional aspect of the murder, but, pointing to the deficiencies in the court’s investigations, they also emphasized that Mr. Shoja’i should not be executed due to his young age, in addition to the fact that he was deprived of sufficient facilities to defend himself.

The first issue that had been raised in these briefs was that the murder had not been premeditated, and that the eyewitnesses had testified in court that one blow had been inflicted by Behnud to the victim’s lower left torso. This is while the third paragraph of the Medical Examiner’s Report states that two blows were inflicted to the victim with different distances. Consequently, given that the victim was killed in a group fight, and that the defendant had fled the scene after inflicting the first blow, it is possible that two murder weapons were used in killing the victim, and that there can be another person who had also perpetrated a blow. No investigation whatsoever was conducted, however, by Tehran Province Criminal Court, Branch 74, and by Supreme Court Branch 33, in spite of this report regarding the second blow, confirmed by the Medical Examiner. The other issue that negates the defendants’ or the criminals’ criminal responsibility, is self defense, which was not investigated at all by the investigating authorities of this case, whereas, one of the judicial authorities’ responsibilities is to collect any evidence in support or to the detriment of the defendant’s position. There is much evidence in the file that shows that he acted in self defense and that he had inflicted a blow with a knife, even though he regretted what he had done and had asked the victim’s parents to pardon and forgive him. (Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog)

Another element in his defense was that Mr. Shoja’i was a young man of 17, lacking mature thought and [full] intellectual development, that he basically did not even know the victim, and had no prior intention to commit murder; the murder was purely an accident and the element of intent, which is an essential element in any crime, was not present in this case. Mr. Shoja’i had stated in his own defense in court that he had not gone there with prior intent and that the incident had occurred when the victim had insulted his dead mother, making him angry, resulting in his actions. Also, in a letter to the victim’s mother, he stated that he was not the main cause of the fight and what had happened was an accident, that he was not a professional killer and had not done planned out the act; he asked her to forgive him and not carry out Qesas.

Citing Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Iran is a signatory, having ratified both treaties in its [parliament], Majless) which prohibit the death penalty for individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime, as well as Article 9 of the [Iranian] Civil Code [pursuant to which international treaties to which Iran is a signatory are considered domestic law and therefore legally binding], the attorneys stated that Mr. Shoja’i was 17 at the time of the fight, and therefore, breach of these laws is a violation of the law. (Etemad Melli newpaper)

The ambiguities and defects the attorneys pointed out in their brief submitted to the Supreme Court, were based on the General and Revolutionary Courts Rules of Criminal Procedure Article 272 (“Instances where, after a final decision has been rendered by a court of law, a re-trial can take place are the following, regardless of whether the sentence has been implemented or not:”) Paragraph (5) (“If other events occur or are discovered, or new evidence is presented which proves the innocence of the accused;”) and Paragraph (6) (“Where the sentence issued is not proportionate to the crime, due to the judge’s mistake”). Further, in a letter/brief submitted to the Head of the Judiciary, they requested that he act in his capacity of Mojtahed (a clergyman who has reached the highest level of expertise in Islamic jurisprudence) and order a re-trial of Mr. Shoja’i’s case, or in the alternative, given the victim’s parents’ implied readiness to accept Dieh (monetary compensation in lieu of Qesas”), refer the case to a Conflict Resolution Council. (Mohammad Oliae’ifard with Fereshteh Qazi)


On October 2, 2006, Tehran province Criminal Court, Branch 74 sentenced Mr. Behnud Shoja’i to death. The sentence was upheld by Supreme Court Branch 33 on June 30, 2007. At 5:30 in the morning of October 11, 2009, in the presence of the victim’s father, mother, brother, and sister, the defendant’s two attorneys, and a number of prison officials, Behnud Shoja’i was hanged in Tehran’s Evin Prison, Hall 4. More than 200 people had gathered outside the prison waiting for a stay of execution. The victim’s mother had said that [they] would take forgiveness into consideration until after they had put the noose around the defendant’s neck. But not only did they not forgive, they participated in Mr. Shoja’i’s hanging.

In an interview with Voice of America, one of Mr. Shoja’i’s attorneys stated that it was not the victim’s family that had executed his client; they were just a means to execute Behnud. It was the Iranian Judiciary and the reactionary [and backward] domestic laws of Iran that had executed Behnud.

In published interviews and letters, Mr. Shoja’i talks about the difficulties and hardships he endured in prison, as well as about the days he had been transferred to solitary confinement awaiting execution and the pressure he had withstood. He writes about his mental condition in a letter: “That night, I thought about everything until dawn (the last dawn of my life); you have no idea what I went through and what I endured until dawn.” He continues: “When they called me for execution, I performed my prayer, my last prayer, and then I was on my way. The sound of the chains; I had to die with my hands tied. How hard it is.” And addressing the victim’s parents, he writes: “Now you have time to do some research and find out how those who insisted on Qesas, felt after the execution. If I committed that act due to ignorance, and at an age when I did not know right from wrong, then what about you? You only want to [take my life] to take revenge.” (Behnud Shoja’i’s last unpublished letter in Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog). According to Mr. Shoja’i himself, he had gone to the gallows three times, and 14 people were hanged in front of him. More than five times, he was informed of a stay of execution one day prior, when he was quarantined in Evin Prison’s cells, waiting to be hanged. (Behnud Shoja’i interview with Saba Vassefi). In his last interview, he was asked whether he would like the execution to be postponed again, to which he responded: “No, no. I truly no longer want it to be postponed. But I want Ehsan’s mother to be a mother to me. I know they’ve lost their loved one, I know it’s a major suffering but I would like them to think a little bit. I absolutely had no prior intention.” He continues: “I’ve been in jail since the age of 17.  I haven’t had a mother since childhood, I’ve suffered a lot. I have spent four and a half years of my life in jail among a bunch of criminals, since I was 17. I swear to God, the punishment I have suffered is enough to last lifetime. I pray to God that even [my] worst enemy doesn’t end up in a place like this. I beg the next of kin to think what his/her heart would want done if the situation were reversed; let them do that. I want to tell them from the bottom of my heart that I will be [their] slave for the rest of my life. I know I’m asking a lot, it’s a great thing I’m asking of them. I know forgiving is a very difficult thing to do in these circumstances but in here, whoever has done Qesas (retribution) has regretted it [afterward]. If any plaintiff stays in jail for just one week, not only will he/she forgive, but will get all the plaintiffs to forgive as well.” (Behnud Shoja’i interview with Saba Vassefi).

Numerous efforts were made to stop Mr. Shoja’i’s execution, and although they delayed the implementation of the sentence multiple times, they were ultimately not successful in preventing it. Among those that contacted the victim’s parents in order to obtain their forgiveness, were three filmmakers, who wrote a letter to the Head of the Judiciary, signed by 200 Iranian journalists, requesting that he stop the execution. After obtaining the parents’ agreement to forgive [Mr. Shoja’i] and to accept Dieh, this group of people that came to be known as the Peace and Compromise Group, opened a bank account asking the public to donate money to collect the Dieh. After a while, however, Tehran’s Criminal Affairs Prosecutor summoned the three filmmakers to court, with Tehran’s special criminal investigating judge stating that the victim’s family had lodged a complaint, asserting that they had not asked for Dieh and they wished Qesas to be carried out. The special investigating judge further stated that the account had been clocked pursuant to a court order, and asked the public not to deposit money any more. In a documentary that was made about Mr. Shoja’i’s case after his execution, the victim’s brother stated in an interview that, by calling on the public and collecting money, the aforementioned group had played with their honor and dignity. (“Ajir”, a documentary film made by the Islamic Republic Network One Documentary Group)


*News of Mr. Shoja’i’s arrest and trial were published by Iska News (February 15, 2006, September 26, 2006, December 21, 2007, January 27, 2008), Fars News Agency (December 21, 2007, May 7, 2007, June 28, 2008), European Union Declaration (May 4, 2008), Etemad Melli newspaper (May 5, 2008, May 30, 2008, June 1, 2008, September 1, 2008), Etemad newspaper ( January 28, 2008, May 5, 2008, June 10, 2008, June 20, 2008, November 25, 2008, August 18, 2009), ISNA June 10, 2008, August 21, 2008, August 19, 2009, October 7, 2009, October 10, 2009), Jam-e Jam (June 29, 2008), Kargozaran (July 22, 2008), BBC (August 19, 2008), Rooz Online (December 24, 2008, October 13, 2009, October 29, 2009), Asr-e Iran (August 18, 2009, April 5, 2010), Mohammad Mostafa’i’s weblog (August 18, 2009), Aftab-e Yazd (October 8, 2009), and the documentary film “Ajir” made by the Islamic Republic Network One Documentary Group (2009-2010).  Several interviews with Mr. Shoja’i’s prison mates were also published in news media.

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