Iranian flags flying during National Army Day in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran on April 18.
CNN  — 

Iran secretly executed two teenagers last week, according to rights group Amnesty International, which criticized the country for its “utter disdain for international law and the rights of children.”

The 17-year-old cousins, Mehdi Sohrabifar and Amin Sedaghat, were executed on April 25 at a prison in the southern city of Shiraz “following an unfair trial,” Amnesty said in a statement on Monday. The teens had been convicted on multiple rape charges.

Iran did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Amnesty said the teenagers, who were arrested in 2017 at the age of 15, did not know they had been sentenced to death until “shortly before their executions.” Their bodies also showed lash marks, showing that they had been flogged prior to their deaths, according to the group.

“The Iranian authorities have once again proved that they are sickeningly prepared to put children to death, in flagrant disregard of international law,” Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said in a statement.

The boys had no access to legal representation during the investigation stage and, following their arrest, the pair were held for two months at a police detention center “where they said they were beaten,” according to Amnesty.

Families kept in the dark

On April 24, the boys were transferred from a juvenile correction center to Adelabad prison, said the rights group. That same day, Amnesty said the pair’s families were allowed to visit them but were not informed “that it was in preparation for their execution.”

The relatives were only informed of the executions the next day, when they were told to collect the bodies, Amnesty said.

“We have identified a trend in which Iran’s authorities are carrying out executions of juvenile offenders in secret and without giving advance notice to the families, seemingly in a deliberate attempt to avoid global outrage,” Luther added.

One of the world’s biggest executioners

International human rights groups have long criticized Iran for its use of capital punishment. Tehran has reportedly executed five minors in 2018 – one of only four countries to do so since 2013 – according to Human Rights Watch.

According to a 2019 report by Amnesty, Iran is the second biggest executioner in the world after China. It is also the world’s top executioner of juveniles. The rights group recorded the executions of 97 people under the age of 18 between 1990 and 2018.

“The use of the death penalty against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime is strictly prohibited under international human rights law and is a flagrant assault on children’s rights,” Luther added.

“It is long overdue for Iranian parliamentarians to put an end to this harrowing situation by amending the penal code to ban the use of the death penalty against anyone who was under 18 at the time of the offense.”