According to the new penal code, a married woman who was convicted of adultery will be hanged rather than stoned to death. In addition, the new code bans the death penalty for teenagers under 18 who have yet to reach "intellectual maturity."
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Iran executes more teenagers than any other country in the world. According to human rights groups, more than 100 minors are currently on death row in Iran. Most of them will not be executed before they turn 18.
The revision to the penal code was approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful body of clerics and lawyers that vets parliamentary activity and makes certain it corresponds with Islamic (sharia) law.
However, the Guardian reported that experts who have studied the new code questioned the claims that Iran had fully abolished the death penalty for those convicted under the age of 18 or abandoned its use of stoning. They also believe the amendments have complicated some other parts of the law, especially the punishment of homosexuality, the British daily reported.
According to the report, under the new code, the death sentence has been removed for juveniles only in crimes whose punishment can be administered at the discretion of the judge (such as drug offences). Under the same law, however, a death sentence may still be applied for a juvenile if he or she has committed crimes that are considered to be "claims of God" and therefore have mandatory sentences (such as sodomy, rape, theft, fornication, apostasy and consumption of alcohol for the third time).
A decision on whether such a death sentence for a juvenile can be issued relies on the "judge's knowledge" – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present, the Guardian said in its report.
Amnesty International's Iran researcher Drewery Dyke told the British newspaper: "Let's not be fooled by this seeming suggestion of improvements to Iran's penal code. The penal code still allows for stoning to be carried out. Child offenders are still at risk of being placed on death row, and men and women can still be convicted on grounds of consensual extramarital and same-sex relations."
"These new amends to Iran's penal code have done nothing to improve the country's human rights record," he said.
Some two years ago Iran drew harsh international criticism when it sentenced a woman who was convicted of committing adultery and murdering her husband to death by stoning.
Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's sentence was delayed and she continues to serve time at a prison in Iran's northwest.
Officials in Iran believe she will not be stoned to death over the adultery conviction, but do not rule out the possibility that she will be hanged for murdering her husband.
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