Zeinab Sekaanvand, an Iranian-Kurdish woman charged with killing her husband, is incarcerated in Iran and awaiting her execution by hanging.
Sekaanvand ran away from home at age 15 to marry her first husband, Hossein Sarmadi, seeing him as her only chance for a better life. After their wedding, Sarmadi began regularly physically and verbally abusing his wife. Sekaanvand sought help from law enforcement and registered several police complaints against her husband, none of which were investigated. Her husband rejected her divorce requests, and when Sekaanvand attempted to return home to her conservative parents, they disowned her for eloping.
Women’s rights in Iran lag far behind their male counterparts. Married women are subject to tamkin, submission to their husbands’ demands, and, in return, are entitled to financial support. If a woman disobeys a husband’s direct order without a “sufficient excuse,” her husband may legally divorce or abuse her under the Iranian Civil Code.
At 17, Sekaanvand was charged with killing her husband. She initially confessed to the murder but later retracted her admittance of guilt, saying that her brother-in-law had killed her husband and that she had confessed under duress. When she originally admitted to the crime, she had been detained in a police station for almost three weeks where she was beaten repeatedly and had no access to a lawyer.
Her brother-in-law — who she accuses of raping her multiple times in addition to killing her husband—drafted a pardon under which he would be compensated for the death in lieu of her serving a prison sentence. Under Islamic law, family members of the deceased are permitted to enact such deals, but the court decided to sentence her to death.
22-read-old Sekaanvand’s execution was postponed when she married a fellow prisoner and became pregnant while incarcerated, as it is illegal to execute a pregnant woman in Iran. When she gave birth to a stillborn baby last month, her execution was rescheduled for as soon as this month, though there has been no announcement of an official date.
Human right activists claim that Sekaanvand’s trial and investigation were not in line with international human rights standards and that Iran should outlaw death sentences for minors in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Iran has executed at least one person in 2016 who was convicted for an offence when they were a child, and a minimum of 49 more child offenders are currently on Iran’s death row.