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Iran: more than 250 people executed in first six months of 2022

Iran has executed an average of around one person every single day in 2022 © Amnesty International

Mass executions in prisons are partly response to prison overcrowding 

Large number of executions for drugs offences, with impoverished Baluchi ethnic minority disproportionately affected

‘The state machinery is carrying out killings on a mass scale across the country’ - Diana Eltahawy

The Iranian authorities have embarked on a “staggering” wave of executions in the first six months of this year, with at least 251 put to death often in groups of ten or more at a time, according to new research by Amnesty International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran.

The two organisations warned that if executions continue at this horrifying pace they will soon surpass the total of 314 executions recorded in Iran during the whole of 2021.

Most (146) of those executed this year had been convicted of murder amid well-documented patterns of executions in Iran being carried out following grossly unfair trials. At least 86 others were executed for drug-related offences which, according to international law, should never incur the death penalty. On 23 July, the authorities executed one man in public in Fars province, after a halt in public executions for two years in the country during the Covid pandemic.

The figures compiled by Amnesty and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center draw from a variety of sources - including prisoners, relatives of those executed, human rights defenders, journalists and reports by state media, as well as independent media outlets and human rights organisations. The real number is likely to be even higher given secrecy in Iran on the topic. 

The death penalty is imposed in Iran following trials that are systematically unfair, with torture-tainted “confessions” routinely used as evidence. The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran has stated that “entrenched flaws in law … mean that most, if not all, executions are an arbitrary deprivation of life.”

Under Iranian law the death penalty applies to numerous offences, including financial crimes, rape and armed robbery. Activities protected by international human rights law such as consensual same-sex sexual conduct, extramarital sexual relations and speech deemed “insulting to the Prophet of Islam” - as well as vaguely-worded offences such as “enmity against God” and “spreading corruption on earth” - are also punishable by death.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said:

“During the first six months of 2022, the Iranian authorities executed at least one person a day on average. 

“The state machinery is carrying out killings on a mass scale across the country in an abhorrent assault on the right to life.”

Roya Boroumand, Executive Director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, said: 

“The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran’s Baluchi minority epitomises the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades and further highlights the inherent cruelty of the death penalty, which targets the most vulnerable populations in Iran and worldwide.

“The Iranian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty completely.”

Mass executions

The authorities have regularly carried out mass executions, including: 

On 14 May, the authorities executed nine people: three in Zahedan prison, one in Vakilabad prison in Khorasan-e Razavi province, four in Adelabad prison in Fars province, and one in Dastgerd prison in Esfahan province.

On 6 June, at least 12 people were executed in Zahedan prison in Sistan and Baluchistan province.

On 15 June, the authorities in Raja’i Shahr prison in Alborz province executed at least 12 people. 

According to an informed source interviewed by Amnesty last month, since early this year the authorities in Raja’i Shahr prison, which has one of the largest numbers of people on death row, have been executing five people each week on average, with up to ten executions carried out some weeks. The figures fit with public letters written separately in recent months by human rights defenders Saeed Eghabli and Farhad Meysami who are unjustly jailed in Raja’i Shahr prison. The former referred to weekly executions of up to ten people in Raja’i Shahr prison while the latter warned that the total number of executions there could surpass 200 by the end of 2022.

The source also said that Raja’i Shahr’s associate prosecutor recently told prisoners that the Office for the Implementation of Sentences had written to the families of about 530 murder victims asking them to decide whether to pardon or seek the execution of those convicted of murdering their relatives by March 2023. The same source said repeated statements by the head of judiciary Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei and other senior judicial officials in recent months about the need to address prison overcrowding have raised widespread fears among prisoners that the rise in executions is related to official efforts to reduce prisoner numbers. These fears are supported by past patterns monitored by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center indicating spikes in executions coinciding with periods when the authorities make statements about addressing case backlogs and reducing overcrowding.

Renewed surge in drug-related executions

The execution of at least 86 people for drug-related offences in the first six months of 2022 has grim echoes of the authorities’ lethal anti-narcotics practices in the years between 2010 and 2017, when most recorded executions were for drug-related offences. In November 2017, following intense international pressure - which included several European countries cutting off funds to anti-narcotics operations by Iran’s law-enforcement forces - the authorities adopted some legal reforms to eliminate the death penalty for certain drug-related offences.

However, in 2021 at least 132 people were executed for drug-related offences, accounting for 42% of overall recorded executions and representing more than a five-fold rise from 2020 (23). The international community, including the EU and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, must urgently undertake high-level interventions, calling on the Iranian authorities to end the death penalty for all drug-related offences.

At least 65 (26%) of those executed in Iran during 2022 have been people from Iran’s impoverished Baluchi ethnic minority, who make up around 5% of Iran’s population. More than half (38) were executed for drug-related offences.

Executions on the increase

The number of executions in Iran in 2021 was the highest since 2017. The rise began in September 2021 after the head of judiciary Ebrahim Raisi became president and the Supreme Leader appointed a former Minister of Intelligence, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, as the new head of judiciary.

The Iranian authorities has so far carried out one public execution in 2022 - with none in 2021, one in 2020, 13 in 2019 and 13 in 2018. Official announcements indicate that in early 2022, at least two other people in Esfahan province and one person in Lorestan province were sentenced to be executed in public.

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