State Executions Rise to Two Per Day in Iran

Iran executions
A policeman prepares a man, convicted of various charges, for his hanging in Mashhad, 924 km (574 miles) east of Tehran August 1, 2007. Stringer/REUTERS

Executions in Iran have soared under president Rouhani, according to an Oslo-based Iranian human rights group, with an average of two now being carried out every day.

Iran Human Rights (IHR) in conjunction with the French group Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (Together against the Death Penalty), unveiled their findings this week at a press conference in the Norwegian capital as part of the release of IHR’s annual report on the death penalty in Iran.

Among the findings, the groups have found that 753 people were executed in 2014, a 10% increase compared to 2013. Just 291 of these cases (39%) were announced by official Iranian sources.

The number of executions for 2014 is higher than in previous years, and has risen steadily since 2005, when 94 executions were recorded for that year. The group estimates that the number of executions for 2014 is “possibly one of the highest since the early 1990s”.

The report also shows that executions have risen dramatically since president Hassan Rouhani’s election in June 2013. In the 18 months before his election, there were 827 executions. In the 18 months after the election, this figure rose to 1,193.

Of these executions, nearly half of the prisoners, 49% (367) were executed for drug-related charges, while 240 were executed for murder charges. At least 14 juvenile offenders were executed, as were 26 women. Last October, it was reported that a woman convicted of murdering a man she accused of attempting to rape her when she was a teenager was executed.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director and spokesperson of IHR, described the report’s findings as “shocking”.

“When we compared the figures and saw that during the whole of Rouhani’s presidency there had been more than two executions per day on average, that was shocking,” he says. “The biggest shock came shortly after his first month in power, when we realised where the human rights situation in Iran was going. He gave the impression that human rights would improve, but we have seen the complete opposite.”

“The aim of these executions is not to fight crime, but to spread fear among the population”, he continues.

All of the reported execution cases for 2014 were carried out by hanging. In most cases, public executions are carried out using cranes, while in prisons they are usually carried out by having the object the prisoner is standing on kicked out from beneath their feet, according to the report.

The report says that often the fall is not severe enough to dislocate the neck and thus cause sudden death, and so in some cases it has taken several minutes for a prisoner to die from suffocation or strangulation. IHR has also received several reports from different prisons where prisoners are forced to watch their fellow prisoners hanged before it is their turn.

At least 53 of the executions recorded were held in public, with children often present to watch the spectacle. The report states that in September 2013, an eight year-old boy died while staging a mock execution, and Amiry-Moghaddam confirms there have been several other cases of children who have died while mimicking executions.

Young people have also reportedly been executed by the state. The report cites the case of Jannat Mir, an Afghan boy who was 15 when he was executed for alleged drug trafficking. He was not given a lawyer, and his family in Afghanistan could not afford to have Mir’s body returned to the country, according to Amiry-Moghaddam.

There has also been an alarming rise in the number of ‘qisas’, or retribution executions since 2013, whereby once the perpetrator has been found guilty the victim’s family can decide if the perpetrator lives or dies. In 2014 there were at least four qisas cases where the execution was interrupted after several seconds or even minutes, with the family deciding at the last minute to forgive the prisoner. In May 2014, the report states, a 28-year-old woman convicted of murdering her mother-in-law was hanged in a prison; an execution carried out by her sister-in-law. After 10 seconds of being hanged, she was pardoned by her sister-in-law and the execution was halted. A few hours later she was still in shock, but able to speak, although with some difficulty, the report states.

Amiry-Moghaddam concludes that the west must intervene to remedy the situation in Iran. “Today Iran depends on dialogue with the west to lift the sanctions and this is the time when the West can have some influence on the human rights situation by making demands. If they don’t do it now it will never happen.”

Next week, negotiations on how to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities will resume between the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Iran and the six powers - Britain, France, China, Russia, the United States - are aiming to complete a nuclear deal by the end of March. The deal would halt some of Iran's nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for an end to sanctions.