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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Iran: Child bride faces execution by hanging

Zeinab Sokian
Zeinab Sokian
Zeinab Sekaanvand Lokran comes from a poor, conservative Iranian-Kurdish family, and ran away from home at 15 to marry Hossein Sarmadi in the hope for a better life.

Soon after the wedding, Hossein started beating Zeinab - she asked for a divorce, but he refused. She told police, but they ignored her. She ran away, but her family disowned her.

She was 17 when her husband died. Zeinab was arrested and "confessed" that she killed her husband after he'd abused her for months and refused her requests for divorce.

She was then held at the police station for the next 20 days and repeatedly tortured by police officers.

After a grossly unfair trial, in which she was denied access to a lawyer during her entire pre-trial detention, Zeinab was sentenced to death by hanging.

Execution delayed during pregnancy


In 2015, Zeinab married a fellow prisoner in Oroumieh Central Prison and became pregnant.

Her execution was delayed while Zeinab was expecting. Last month she gave birth to a stillborn baby, and is now at risk of execution.

Doctors said her baby died in her womb 2 days earlier due to shock, around the same time her cell mate and friend was executed on 28 September. She was returned from hospital to the prison the very next day - denied any postnatal support or care since.

Raped by her brother-in-law


Zainab only met her state-appointed lawyer for the first time at her final trial session. It was then that she retracted confessions made when she'd had no access to a lawyer.

She told the court that her husband's brother, who she said had raped her several times, was responsible for the murder and had coerced her into confessing, promising he would pardon her (under Islamic law, murder victims' relatives have the power to pardon the offender and accept financial compensation instead).

This statement was ignored by the court, which instead relied heavily on her old "confessions" to reach its verdict.

In Iran, girls are held criminally accountable by law from the age of nine (9),
and can be sentenced to death by hanging for crimes such as murder,
drug trafficking and armed robbery. Click here to read their stories.

A child at the time of the crime


Zainab was just 17 at the time of the crime she is accused of. The courts completely failed to apply juvenile sentencing from Iran's Islamic penal code in her case.

They also failed to tell her that she could submit an application for retrial. Iran's penal code falls woefully short of what's required for juvenile offenders under international human rights law, and even the limited safeguards that do exist are not adhered to by the authorities.

The use of the death penalty for crimes committed by people under 18 is also completely prohibited under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iran has signed up to.

Thank you


More than 80,000 of you signed our petition urging the Iranian authorities to halt Zeinab's execution and throw out her death sentence. Her execution, which was scheduled to go ahead as early as 13 October 2016 is no longer imminent. Zeinab now has a new lawyer working on her case. Together they will submit an application for a retrial - which is Zeinab's right under Article 91 of Iran's Islamic Penal Code.

While this is extremely good news, her death sentence remains in place until a retrial is granted by the authorities.

Unfortunately, Zeinab's case is not an isolated case in Iran. We have recorded at least 74 executions of juvenile offenders between 2005 and 2016 in Iran. Scores of young people in Iran remain on death row for crimes committed when they were under 18.

Source: amnesty.org.uk, January 11, 2017

➤ Related content: Waiting to die: the Iranian child inmates facing execution – in pictures, The Guardian, January 8, 2016

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