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Iran: The death penalty

11 May 2015

Iran executes more people per year than any other country in the world except China.

At least 721 people were executed during 2014, a rise from the estimated 687 people executed during 2013, which at that time constituted the highest number of executions in over 15 years. The trend continues in 2015, with 83 documented executions as of 3 February. Possession and trafficking of narcotic drugs remain the charges the most commonly used against those executed in Iran in 2013 and 2014. Juvenile offenders are among those executed, and more than 40% of the executions either were not announced by the authorities or were conducted secretly.

The Iranian government does not announce many executions, so the true figure is difficult to determine. It is generally believed, however, that true figures are far higher than those recorded. For example, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran asserts that there were 600 executions in 2011, 161 of which were secret deaths, unannounced by the authorities. The Campaign has documented 471 secret executions in Mashhad and other cities since January 2010.

Death sentences were imposed in 2012 for sexual offences, political actions, espionage, and drug smuggling, as well as rape and murder. Notable death sentences in 2012 were meted out to individuals convicted of enmity against God (moharebeh), corruption on earth, sodomy (homosexual acts), armed robbery, bank fraud, drugs-related offences, alcohol use, ‘spying for the CIA’, and even cultural activities. In 2011 more than 4,000 Afghans were thought to be in Iranian jails, the majority of them for drug-related offences, facing the death penalty. Concern for Afghan prisoners grew after a group of Afghan MPs visited Iran in March 2010. Following this visit, Afghan MP Taj Mohammed Mojahed said that officials from the Iranian Supreme Court had informed them that 5,630 Afghans were in prison, with more than 3,000 sentenced to death. Javad Larijani, Chief of the Iranian Judiciary’s Human Rights Council, has admitted that the policy of execution for drug-related offences has been unsuccessful, and that capital punishment has not reduced drug-related social
maladies. This makes clear that in this instance the use of the death penalty has not worked as a deterrent.

Of considerable concern in recent years has been the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, an Iranian house church leader who was facing the death penalty for apostasy. He had been imprisoned since 2009. Observers were increasingly worried that the death penalty might have been implemented as an ‘example’ to others who have left Islam. However, it is clear that international pressure in his case persuaded the Iranian authorities in September 2012 to lift his death sentence for apostasy and replace it with a three-year sentence for ‘converting Muslims’, which he was deemed to have already served.

The Islamic Republic of Iran must be reminded of its obligations under international law to protect, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right of everyone to ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ for all its citizens, including ‘freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

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