Child Killed in Secret Among 230 Iran Executions in 2021, U.N. Says

A child, who was executed in secret, is among 230 people put to death in Iran so far this year, according to the United Nations' independent investigator on human rights in the country.

Javaid Rehman said Monday that an additional 250 people or more were executed in 2020, including at least four child offenders, the Associated Press reported.

While speaking to the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee, Rehman said that Iran continues to leverage the death penalty "at an alarming rate," adding that "the absence of official statistics and lack of transparency around executions means that this practice escapes scrutiny resulting in serious abuses preventing accountability."

Rehman said that his report on the number of people put to death also brings up concerns regarding why people are given the death penalty, citing "vague national security charges" used as justification against some of the people executed. He added that Iran has "deeply flawed judicial processes, where even the most basic safeguards are absent," AP reported.

"These elements, and the heavy reliance by courts on forced confessions extracted under torture and other fair trial violations, lead me to conclude that the imposition of the death penalty in the Islamic Republic of Iran constitutes arbitrary deprivation of life," Rehman said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Anti-Death Penalty Exhibition
Javaid Rehman, the United Nations' independent investigator on human rights in Iran, said Monday that 250 people or more were executed in the country in 2020, including at least four child offenders. Above, a protest calling for an end to executions in Iran is shown in Trafalgar Square on October 10, 2020, in London, England. Hollie Adams/Getty Images

According to Amnesty International, Iran was the top executioner in the Middle East last year, accounting for more than half the region's 493 executions, followed by Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Amnesty's annual figures exclude China, where executions believed to number in the thousands are classified as a state secret, and omit executions from some countries marred by conflict like Syria.

Rehman, a Pakistani-born professor of human rights and Islamic law at Brunel University in London, called it "imperative" for Iran to undertake criminal law and justice reforms, starting "most urgently" with a moratorium on the death penalty for child offenders.

He said that beyond executions, the overall human rights situation in Iran "remains grim."

He pointed to "persistent impunity for serious violations of human rights law," including those committed by people in powerful positions and "at the highest level of public office."

"The presidential elections in June this year clearly highlight this point," Rehman said. He didn't elaborate, but Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, led Iran's judiciary in recent years, and as a prosecutor early in his career, Raisi served on a so-called "death panel," deciding who would live or be executed in a purge that activists said resulted in the killing of as 5,000 people in 1988.

Rehman said other factors contributing to impunity include "the alarming level of intimidation or persecution of those who call for accountability," citing the high number of acts of reprisals against families of victims, human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists who seek justice. There also has been "a heightened targeting of minority groups and advocates of minority rights," he said.

"The use of lethal force against peaceful protesters continues to be characteristic of the authorities' approach to the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly," he told the committee.

Rehman pointed to the lethal use of live ammunition against unarmed people demonstrating against the lack of water in the western province of Khuzestan in July, when at least nine people including a minor were killed and a large number of other protesters were injured.

He said the widespread use of torture against detainees in many cases amounts to "arbitrary deprivation of life."

Rehman singled out two cases: Amirhossein Hatami, a Kurdish prisoner who died after reportedly being beaten with batons to his head by prison officials, and the unclear circumstances of the death in September of Shahin Naseri, a prisoner who provided witness testimony about the torture endured by Navid Afkari, who was executed last year after participating in protests.

Protest Against Executions in Iran
A child who was executed in secret is among 230 people put to death in Iran so far this year, according to the United Nations' independent investigator on human rights in the country. Above, an exhibition calling for an end to executions in Iran in Trafalgar Square on October 10, 2020, in London, England. Hollie Adams/Getty Images