Human rights

Human rights activists condemn Iran as executions spike at nearly 700 this year

iranhangingThe Iranian authorities are believed to have executed 694 people between January 1 and July 15 this year, Amnesty International says.

Releasing the new statistics, Amnesty said there had been an unprecedented spike in executions in Iran. “This is equivalent to executing more than three people per day. At this shocking pace, Iran is set to surpass the total number of executions in the country recorded by Amnesty International for the whole of last year.”

The majority of those executed in 2015 were convicted on drug charges.

The deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, Said Boumedouha, said: “Iran’s staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the state carrying out premeditated, judicially-sanctioned killings on a mass scale.

“If Iran’s authorities maintain this horrifying execution rate we are likely to see more than 1,000 state-sanctioned deaths by the year’s end.”

Amnesty International and other human rights organisations estimate that several thousand people are on death row in Iran. While not providing an exact figure, the Iranian authorities have said that eighty percent of those awaiting execution have been convicted of drug-related offences.

Each year, the Iranian authorities acknowledge a certain number of judicial executions, but many more are carried out.

As of July 15, the Iranian authorities had officially acknowledged 246 executions this year, but Amnesty International has received credible reports of a further 448 executions carried out over this time period.

Official sources say that 289 people were executed in 2014, but credible reports suggest that the real figure is at least 743.

Amnesty says that the surge in executions reveals how out of step Iran is with the rest of the world when it comes to the use of capital punishment. “140 countries worldwide have now rejected its use in law or practice. Already this year, three more countries have repealed the death penalty completely.”

Said Boumedouha said that, while Amnesty International opposed the use of the death penalty unconditionally and in all cases, death sentences in Iran were particularly disturbing because they were invariably imposed by courts that were completely lacking in independence and impartiality.
“They are imposed either for vaguely worded or overly broad offences, or acts that should not be criminalised at all, let alone attract the death penalty.”

Detainees in Iran are often denied access to lawyers in the investigative stage, Said Boumedouha says, and there are inadequate procedures for appeal, pardon, and commutation.

“The Iranian authorities should be ashamed of executing hundreds of people with complete disregard for the basic safeguards of due process. The use of the death penalty is always abhorrent, but it raises additional concerns in a country like Iran where trials are blatantly unfair.”

Executions in Iran did not stop during the holy month of Ramadan, Amnesty says. In a departure from established practice, at least four people had been executed over the past month.

The non-governmental organisation Iran Human Rights (IHR) said a prisoner had reportedly been executed in the county of Mahvelat in Razavi Khorasan province during Ramadan.

According to the website of the judiciary in the province, the man, who was not named, was charged with the rape of an 11-year-old girl who died in hospital. Charged under the Islamic penal code, he was sentenced to death by hanging for rape and by stoning for adultery, and was hanged in front of a crowd of people.

IHR also said that, on July 22, up to eleven prisoners charged with murder were reportedly hanged to death in the Rajai Shahr prison in the town of Gohardasht. On the same day, a prisoner charged with rape was reportedly executed in the province of Isfahan.

Prior to the executions, the Iranian authorities had reportedly transferred 12 prisoners from their respective wards to solitary confinement and spared the life of one of them after he was forgiven by plaintiffs, the NGO said.

IHR said today that three prisoners were reported to have been hanged to death yesterday (Saturday) in a compound at the central prison in the province of Ilam. The men were reportedly executed for kidnap and rape.

Mahmood Amiry-MoghaddamIHR, which is based in the Norwegian capital Oslo, said the Iranian authorities were continuing with their policies of executing prisoners and spreading fear and terror among Iranians. “We call on the international community to put human rights, particularly executions, at the top of their agenda in talks with Iran,” said the NGO’s executive director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam (pictured left).

Now, after the nuclear agreement with Iran, the international community could not remain silent about the executions, he said.

Under Iran’s anti-narcotics law, the death sentence is mandatory for a range of drug-related offences, including trafficking more than five kilograms of opium or more than 30 grams of heroin, morphine, cocaine, or their chemical derivatives.

Amnesty says this is in direct breach of international law, which restricts the use of the death penalty to only the “most serious crimes”, i.e. those involving intentional killing.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has concluded on several occasions that drug trafficking does not meet the threshold of “most serious crimes”. Imposition of the death penalty in such cases therefore goes against Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

There is also no evidence to prove that the death penalty is a deterrent to crime and drug trafficking or use. Earlier this year, the deputy head of Iran’s Centre for Strategic Research, Hossein Mir Mohammad Sadeghi, admitted that the death penalty had not been able to reduce drug trafficking levels in the country.

Said Boumedouha commented: “For years, the Iranian authorities have used the death penalty to spread a climate of fear in a misguided effort to combat drug trafficking, yet there is not a shred of evidence to show that this is an effective method of tackling crime.”

Many of those convicted of drug-related offences in Iran come from disadvantaged backgrounds and their cases are rarely publicised. In a letter circulated online in June this year, 54 prisoners held on death row in the Ghezel Hesar prison near Tehran described their plight.

“We are the victims of a state of hunger, poverty and misery, hurled down into the hollows of perdition by force and without our will,” they said. “If we had jobs; if we did not need help; if we could turn our lives around and stop our children from going hungry; why should we have gone down a path that guaranteed us our death?”

Among those executed in Iran are members of ethnic and religious minorities convicted of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth”. They include Kurdish political prisoners and Sunni Muslims.

“It is especially harrowing that there is no end in sight for this theatre of cruelty with Iran’s gallows awaiting thousands more death row prisoners,” Said Boumedouha said.

“Prisoners in Iran are often left languishing on death row, wondering each day if it will be their last. In many cases they are notified of their execution only a few hours beforehand and, in some cases, families learn about the fate of their loved-ones days, if not weeks, later.”

507740-shaheedIn May this year, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed (pictured left), and the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, condemned the sharp increase in executions witnessed in April.

The rapporteurs urged the Iranian government to halt all executions and establish a moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to abolishing the practice altogether.

In many instances, the rapporteurs said, executions went unreported by official sources, and the names of prisoners were not published.

Between April 9 and 26, as many as 98 prisoners are reported to have been executed, which is an average of more than six per day. At least six political prisoners and seven women were among those executed.

“We are alarmed by the recent surge in the number of executions, which has occurred despite serious questions about fair trial standards,” Heyns said. “Many of the prisoners executed during this period were charged with drug-related offences, which do not involve intentional killing and hence do not meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’.”

The rapporteurs drew attention to continued reports of executions taking place in public. “Executions staged in public have a dehumanising effect on both the victim and those who witness the execution, reinforcing the already cruel, inhuman, and degrading nature of the death penalty,” they said.

Earlier this month, Shaheed  called on the Iranian government and the international community to seize the opportunity created by the agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme to address the human rights situation in the country.

“It is my sincere hope that the successful conclusion of the nuclear talks, which will enable the lifting of economic sanctions, will allow President Hassan Rouhani to focus on his other campaign pledges, specifically those to promote the enjoyment of all human rights by the Iranian people,” he said.

Every year Amnesty International reports both the number of officially acknowledged executions in Iran and the number of executions the organisation has been able to confirm took place, but which were not officially acknowledged. Previously, when calculating the total number of executions, Amnesty has only counted executions officially acknowledged by the Iranian authorities.

Amnesty has, however, reviewed this approach. In its 2015 annual report on the death penalty, and all its other reporting on the death penalty in Iran, it will now use the combined figure of officially acknowledged executions and those executions not officially admitted, but which Amnesty has confirmed took place.

In a side event at an international congress about the death penalty held in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in June, IHR drew attention to the mass executions being carried out in Iran.

In June alone, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said, sixty people were executed, most of them in the Ghezel Hesar prison.

Over a period of three days in April this year, 43 people were executed, including a juvenile with a serious mental illness.

According to IHR, at least 2,300 prisoners convicted on drug-related charges were executed in Iran between 2010 and 2014. The highest number was in 2011, when there were at least 509 executions.

The NGO says that only about 39 per cent of executions are reported on Iranian state television.

The number of executions has increased rapidly since May this year, IHR says. “More than eighty prisoners have been executed in the Ghezel Hesar prison. Every week the guards take away up to twenty prisoners for execution.”

The execution wave started after a group of prisoners gathered peacefully in the prison yard with handwritten banners asking the supreme leader Ali Khamenei for a reduction of their death sentence to life in prison, IHR says. “Three days later, 22 prisoners were executed.”

At the KL congress, Amiry-Moghaddam showed a video that included testimonies from two prisoners on death row in the Ghezel Hesar prison. “These people have been sentenced to death on drug-related charges after unfair trials and were subjected to torture.

“We want the world to stop its silence and to condemn these extra-judicial arbitrary executions.
If the world maintains its silence we are worried that maybe hundreds of prisoners will be executed in the coming months.”

Death row testimonies

One prisoner in the IHR video said: “They take you into a room with a chair fixed to the floor. They handcuff you to the chair, then beat you with a cable wire, an electric taser, and a wooden baton. As a result, my eardrum is torn. They also broke two of my teeth.

“One of my friends lost his vision in one eye. They also broke two of his fingers … there are people here who have had their legs broken.”

The detainee went on to say: “The interrogator will hit you hard over the head with a wooden baton and say ‘Go ahead and die. There are no issues with you dying. I’ll just write in your file that you are an addict who went into withdrawal or that you smoked so much drugs, you overdosed and died’.”

The inmate said several detainees had died under torture; he cited one alleged case at Evin prison and two at Kahrizak jail.

Another inmate interviewed in the video says he cannot sleep until after 5 a.m. when the names of those to be executed next are announced.

The IHR video shows a heart-wrenching scene of a detainee who is about to be executed saying goodbye to fellow inmates.

Sentences for drug trafficking are passed by the revolution courts behind closed doors, Amiry-Moghaddam says. “A trial lasts about thirty minutes. The lawyers have no defence because these people have been forced to make confessions so basically there is no due process.”

Torture is systematic, Amiry-Moghaddam adds. “In the first days of their detention prisoners are tortured until they sign a confession and, based on that confession, they are sentenced to death. All the prisoners we have information about have been subjected to this process.”

The Iranian authorities have admitted that use of the death penalty does not solve the drug trafficking problem, but they still continue their executions, Amiry-Moghaddam says. “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime continues its cooperation with Iran, and several European countries continue their funding of this operation. We want all this to stop.”

The continued cooperation with Iran’s anti-drugs operation gives legitimacy to the executions, Amiry-Moghaddam says. “Iranian authorities claim these executions are part of their international campaign against drug trafficking, which is supported by the United Nations and backed by European countries.”

This cooperation makes Iran better equipped in its anti-drugs campaign, Amiry-Moghaddam adds, and anyone arrested in Iran in possession of drugs runs a very high risk of being executed. Amiry-Moghaddam is convinced that many of those in detention for drugs offences would be found not guilty in a fair trial.

The authorities, he says, use religion as a political instrument so as to carry out the executions and to spread fear.

One detainee in the IHR video said: “What we did [to end up in prison] doesn’t warrant death.” He asks for first-time offenders to be given a second chance. “If you come to prison with one felony, they will take away your life. Forgiveness is not an option.”

Right now, abolition of the death penalty in Iran seems a very distant dream, but Amiry-Moghaddam says public opinion in the country is against capital punishment, and there are Iranian abolitionist groups inside and outside the country. “I am sure that we will have abolition one day,” he said.

Iran Human Rights

IHR video

Reports from the Kuala Lumpur international congress on the death penalty:

Horror and injustice on death row
Asia congress delegates call for an end to death penalty