09262018Wed

Mentally-ill girl who was sold for sex faces death penalty in Iran

The Independent: A teenage girl with a mental age of eight is facing the death penalty for prostitution in Iran. The trial comes only four months after the hanging of another mentally ill girl for sex before marriage in a case that has prompted a human rights lawyer to prepare a charge of wrongful execution against the presiding judge. The Independent

By Angus McDowall in Tehran

A teenage girl with a mental age of eight is facing the death penalty for prostitution in Iran. The trial comes only four months after the hanging of another mentally ill girl for sex before marriage in a case that has prompted a human rights lawyer to prepare a charge of wrongful execution against the presiding judge.

The girl, known as Leyla M, is in prison while the Supreme Court decides on her "acts contrary to chastity", among the most serious charges under Iranian law. Under the penal code, girls as young as nine and boys as young as 15 can be executed.

In an interview on a Persian-language website, the 19-year-old says she was forced into prostitution by her mother at the age of eight. Amnesty International refers to reports that say she was repeatedly raped, bore her first child aged nine and was passed from pimp to pimp before having another three children.

She told the website: "The first time I was taken to a man's house by my mum I was eight. It was a horrible night and I cried a lot but then my mum came the next day and took me home. She bought me chocolate and cheese curls."

Iranian press reports say Leyla was charged with controlling a brothel, having sex with blood relatives and bearing an illegitimate child. Amnesty says the court refused to admit social workers' evidence of her young mental age and convicted her on the basis of confessions.

Her prosecution echoes the fate of an even younger girl, Atefeh Rajabi, executed in August. In her case a judge known as Hajj Rezai reportedly put the noose around her neck himself after convicting her on the basis of her confessions for the fourth time in two years. She begged for her life while being led to the gallows, shouting "repentance".

Shadi Sadr, a human rights lawyer representing Atefeh's family, has filed a suit of wrongful execution against the judiciary and is preparing a murder case against Mr Rezai after uncovering new evidence. She has found documents seen by The Independent that prove Atefeh was mentally ill and her confessions should not have been used.

"There is an article in the penal code that if somebody is sentenced to lashing on three separate occasions for the same offence, the fourth conviction incurs the death penalty," Ms Sadr toldThe Independent. "The same judge tried her for each of these past cases but we haven't been allowed to see the files."

A different man was involved in each of Atefeh's convictions. All refused to confess but the judge said it was obvious they had sex with her and sentenced them each to 95 lashes.

After her trial, Atefeh said she had been a victim of sexual assault during spells of mental ill health. After her first conviction in 2001 when 14, she spent time in a state facility for the "socially harmed". Ms Sadr has obtained documents written by officials there backing up her story.

An undated report written by the facility's psychiatrist says she had a history of "chronic sexuality" and was given to "pseudo hallucinations" and seductive behaviour. He diagnosed her with borderline bipolar disorder.

People in Atefeh's neighbourhood wrote two petitions - one before her conviction and one afterwards - affirming that she suffered from mental illness and begging for leniency. Ms Sadr has been unable to locate the defence lawyer in the case.

After the verdict, Atefeh wrote to the High Court, saying: "There are medical documents that prove I have weak nerves and soul. In some minutes of the day and night I lose my sanity. During these attacks any kind of positive or negative actions may be done by me. In a society where an insane person can be serially raped or abused it is no wonder that a person like me is the victim of such an ugly act." Ms Sadr says Atefeh's mental state should have invalidated the case.

The day before the execution Atefeh told her aunt she had written three words to the High Court: "Repentance, repentance, repentance." In Iranian law, somebody who repents their crime is granted the right to appeal against their sentence.

A social worker's report says Atefeh's father and brother were heroin addicts and after her mother's death "she sought affection on the streets".

Ms Sadr says it is impossible to verify lurid claims in dissident websites about an improper relationship between girl and judge. "We will never know what happened between Atefeh and the judge because she is dead, he won't tell and she was tried in a closed court."

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