With at least 273 executions in 2018, Iran remains the world’s leader in capital punishment
The number of executions in Iran has been reduced by half following amendments to the country’s anti-drug law, according to a study by the organization Iran Human Rights. However, the Islamic Republic still regularly executes minors.
On April 25, Iranian authorities secretly executed two 17 and a half year old minors, one of whom was mentally handicapped, in the central prison of Chiraz. The teenagers’ parents and lawyers were not informed of the execution before it took place. Instead, they were simply told they could collect the bodies the following day. The boys, Mehdi Sohrabi and Amin Seaghat, had been arrested at 15 on charges of rape and theft. Iranian authorities denied executing any minors.
This shocking use of capital punishment was not an isolated case in Iran, where several minors are executed each year. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, an exiled Iranian activist who conducted a study on the death penalty in Iran last year, said that “at least 273 people were executed in 2018, [and] at least six juvenile offenders were among those executed”.
Those estimates represent “a 48% decrease compared to 2017”, Amiry-Moghaddam told l’Orient-Le Jour (OLJ). But Iran continues to have “the highest number of executions per annum after China” and the highest rate of executions per capita in the world, he added.
Amiry-Moghaddam presented the study, which was carried out by the Oslo based NGO he founded, Iran Human Rights (IHR), in Brussells at the 7th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, which was established with the help of the French organization Together Against the Death Penalty.
Secret executions without transparency.
Obtaining the figures related to capital punishment in Iran was challenging due to the secrecy surrounding the subject in the country. “More than 70 percent of the numbers reported here are based on unofficial sources,” Amiry-Moghaddam said. “Iranians authorities don’t announce all executions… and last year they announced between 20 and 30 percent only of the executions.”
“Lack of transparency is part of the Islamic Republic’s culture,” Amir-Moghaddam continued. “It’s also coupled to lack of accountability. The less information available the less possibility for holding people accountable.”
IHR’s recent report is the 11th the organization has published since beginning its campaign to abolish the death penalty in Iran. This year’s publication coincides with the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 3rd universal periodic review of Iran’s human rights record, carried out by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council to ensure that governments are respecting citizens’ fundamental human rights and liberties.
The most significant change in Iran’s history
Despite the high number of executions and the use of capital punishment against minors, IHR’s study found that the number of executions in Iran reduced by half in 2018 compared to the previous year. The reduction is due to two amendments made to the country’s anti-drug law, according to Amiry-Moghaddam. “This amendment represents the most significant and positive change in the history of the Islamic Republic,” he added. “ In the past, nearly 300 people were executed each year for drug-related offenses. In 2018, only 24 were executed for similar offenses.”
“That being said, many executions have been carried out in secret and are not officially announced. Out of all the executions in 2018, 69 percent, or 188 in total, were for criminal charges,” he continued. “Iranian authorities recognized that the political cost of drug-related executions was too high. The international community was becoming increasingly critical of Iran after learning about the rate of executions in the country from human rights organizations. At the time, one to two people a day were being executed in Iran.”
European countries where the death penalty has been abolished, such as the UK, Ireland, Denmark, France, Italy and Germany, were embarrassed by their backing of a UN anti-drug and crime bureau that directly benefited Iran. In turn, pressure from the international community forced Iran to amend its strict drug laws, according to Amiry-Moghaddam.
Capital punishment as a way of instilling fear
“The Iranian regime and its revolutionary tribunals continue to use capital punishment as a way to instill fear into Iranian society and intimidate critics of the regime,” Amiry-Moghaddam continued. “They frequently violate laws regarding prisoners rights, hand down harsh and unfair sentences, televise confessions and employ torture on prisoners.”
Because of scrutiny from human rights organizations, most victims of the death penalty are not political dissidents, but instead “belong to the most marginalized and vulnerable social groups,” such as drug addicts, he said, The two minors executed last April came from “an underprivileged background without education or connections,” he added.
Ethnic minorities also experience discrimination in Iran when it comes to the application of the death penalty. “Kurds, Baloch and Arabs are the most affected by the death penalty and politically-motivated executions,” Amiry-Moghaddam said, mentioning the execution of two Kurdish political prisoners, Lloghman and Zanyar Moradi, on Sept. 8, 2018 at the Raja Shar prison in Karaj. The two men were arrested in July 2009 and “were executed for assassinating the son of an imam and for belonging to a political association,” despite providing evidence that they were not in the city at the time of the assassination, he continued. “Logham and Zynar Morandiar were convicted based on confessions given under torture… One of the men was the son of a prominent member of a Kurdish political party”.
IHR’s study urges Iranian authorities to abolish capital punishment. “They have succeeded in reducing executions for drug-related crimes. What is stopping them from doing the same for other crimes?” Amiry-Moghaddam asked. “More… people within Iranian society are rising against these executions and have pushed for greater leniency in the last few years.”
According the Iranian penal code, the families of the victims of crimes not only have the right to seek vengeance (qisas) but can also receive financial compensation (blood money, or diya) or personally grant a pardon. IHR reported 272 such cases of such pardons in 2018 alone.
(This article was originally published in french in L'Orient-Le Jouron the 10th of June)