Two Baluchi prisoners at risk execution
The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran’s ethnic minorities epitomizes the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades. Baluchis and other ethnic minorities face discrimination that curtails their access to education, health care, employment, adequate housing and political office. Sistan and Baluchestan province suffers from continued under-investment by the central government, exacerbating poverty and marginalization. Many Baluchi villagers are also denied their right to sufficient, physically accessible and safe water due to poor infrastructure, forcing them to rely on unsafe sources of water such as rivers, wells, ponds and water pits inhabited by crocodiles for drinking and domestic use, putting their lives at risk.
The Iranian authorities have a long history of sentencing to death and executing individuals on drug-related offences. Although executions for drug-related offences have dramatically decreased in recent years following the 2017 reform of Iran’s anti-narcotics law, individuals can still be sentenced to death for some non-violent drug offences based on the quantity and type of drugs seized. Numerous senior Iranian officials previously conceded publicly that decades of punitive drug policies and rampant use of the death penalty had failed to address the country’s drug addiction and trafficking problems. They also admitted that drug-related offences are often linked to other social problems such as poverty and unemployment.
In his January 2021 report to the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran stated that he remained “deeply concerned at the high number of death sentences and executions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, including for acts that do not amount to the ‘most serious crimes’ and following unfair trials. The Human Rights Committee has consistently interpreted the most serious crimes as those involving intentional killing.” Amnesty International has documented numerous cases in which the Iranian authorities have executed prisoners, including from ethnic minorities, following grossly unfair trials and for offences that should not be punishable by death under international law.
Amnesty International has also documented a pattern of systematic fair trial rights violations in Iran, from the time of arrest and throughout pre-trial, trial and appeal proceedings. Detainees are often arrested without warrants and held in prolonged solitary confinement in undisclosed locations without access to their families in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance. Prosecution authorities and interrogators belonging to security and intelligence bodies systematically deny detainees their right to access a lawyer from the time of arrest. Torture and other ill-treatment and forced "confessions" obtained under torture and without a lawyer present are consistently used as evidence by courts to issue convictions. The organization has also documented a pattern of secret executions taking place in Iran, including of ethnic minorities, with the authorities executing individuals without prior notice to their families or lawyers as required by Iranian law.
In view of the irreversible nature of the death penalty, the proceedings in capital cases must scrupulously observe all relevant international standards protecting the right to a fair trial. Defendants must benefit from the services of competent defence counsel from the time of arrest and throughout the pre-trial, trial and appeal proceedings. They must be presumed innocent until their guilt has been proved based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts. Statements elicited as a result of torture or other ill-treatment must be excluded as evidence. The proceedings must guarantee the right to review of both the factual and the legal aspects of the case by a higher tribunal. The effective exercise of this right requires that individuals are provided with a public, reasoned judgement. The right to seek pardon must also be ensured. Under international law, the imposition of the death penalty following an unfair trial constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of the right to life.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.