Executions come swiftly and often in Iran’s ‘justice’ system

August 17, 2015
People protest against executions and human rights violations in Iran on a square near the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague

People protest against executions and human rights violations in Iran on a square near the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, March 25, 2014. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares

The nuclear deal between Iran, the United States and other major world players has garnered significant praise and fanfare. The agreement has been hailed as a victory for peace and a turning point for Iran. Some have even claimed that the agreement will usher in a new era of moderation and the development of Iranian civil society.

The facts on the ground paint a very different picture, especially as they relate to human rights. Currently, the Iranian regime leads the world in per capita executions and it continues to escalate the rate of executions and mass repression.

Since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in 2013, all talk of the opposition movement and human rights has been swept under the rug while human rights reports from inside the country confirm the true nature of this regime. Earlier this year a report by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Ahmad Shaheed noted that “the overall situation has worsened” with respect to human rights.

Just weeks after signing the “historic” deal and more than eight months after signing an interim agreement, Iran is in the midst of what Amnesty International has referred to as an “unprecedented spike” in executions. Currently, Iran’s new “moderate” administration is on pace to hit a new 12-year high in executions. And Amnesty International has noted that while the regime officially claims that only 246 executions have taken place in 2015, this number is closer to 700 in reality. 

Said Boumedouha, Deputy Middle East Director at Amnesty International, has decried Iran’s “theatre of cruelty,” stating; “Iran’s staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the State carrying out premeditated, judicially-sanctioned killings on a mass scale.”

Dissidents and human rights groups have noted that many executions in Iran occur with little or no due process. Trials that do take place are often deeply politicized and flawed, prisoners are often not allowed access to legal counsel, and denied the procedural remedies of appeal. Political prisoners who are sentenced to death usually see their fates sealed in court proceedings that occur in a matter of minutes.

The mass killings not only take human lives, but they have also traumatized and terrorized a population. Public executions are commonplace in Iran and the horrific spectacle is a constant reminder to those who dare defy this regime.

The majority of those tried and executed are charged with crimes against the State, or drug trafficking. According the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), at least 2,052 people were executed on drug-related offences between 2010-2014. A report by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran concluded that trials involving drug charges “never last more than a few minutes.” The execution of individuals for drug related crimes is a blatant violation of international law, which reserves capital punishment for only “the most serious crimes.” Opposition activists have accused Iran of using drug charges against dissidents in order to mask repression and besmirch the activities of dissidents.

The those executed are often individuals who are marginalized in Iranian society. This includes undocumented migrants and refugees from neighboring Afghanistan, as well as ethnic and religious minorities who face disenfranchisement in Iran. In 2014, Iran hanged an Afghan juvenile, 17-year-old Jannat Mir for an alleged drug offense, despite the fact that he was a minor. Iran remains one of the only countries in the world to execute juvenile offenders.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has given more than $15 million to Iran since 1998 in order to fight the “war on drugs” and most of this money comes from European nations, despite their own opposition to the death penalty. Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team for the human rights NGO Reprieve has called for a change to this policy, stating, “Even as Iran’s execution rate skyrockets, European nations like France and Germany continue to fund brutal raids by the Iranian police which routinely send people to death row for non-violent offenses.”

Those who claim that a nuclear deal with Iran presents hope for human rights never identify a mechanism through which this supposed change will occur.

Unfortunately for the Iranian people, the nuclear agreement has not only lifted what little international pressure there was on the regime, it has also led to premature predictions of change in Iran. As a result, Iranian dissidents are further marginalized, and the world continues to avert its eyes from Iran’s policy of death.


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The authors article came straight out of AIPAC’s Iran policy statement.

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

There are a lot of Americans who’d relish this here.

Posted by Bookfan | Report as abusive

Iran sounds like Texas.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Bookfan: the author doesn’t mention that about the only other country that executes juvenile offenders is the US.

Posted by RobertHoward | Report as abusive

Do you think you have the skill set to lord over Iran, Mr Panah? The article is lightweight in details. Undocumented migrants from Afghanistan would raise red flags in my country, especially with the disenchantment of Al Qeada operatives seeking to reintegrate into alternatively more virile strains of Fundamentalist franchises. Afghanistan also being the richest source of Opium production, which has spiralled after the U.S. invasion, indicates that executions may be directed towards stemming trafficking through her lands; many returning funds highly likely to find their ways into the war chests of ideologues. There must be plenty of social work to occupy a wayward human rights lawyer in the Bay area and further to the South West. Amazes that nationals seek human rights abuses in distant lands when so much work has to be accomplished in their own lands. Homelessness must be rife in the mega sprawls of the East and West Coast. Violent crime surrounding crime syndicates appears to be spiralling out of control in the United States. Your streets are mean streets. So what is the solution; bash a foreign nation state that has evolved over many thousand of years from the desert sands of a completely different world. 700 state sanctioned executions as compared to 30 000 gun related executions in the U.S. and death squads roaming the Mexican badlands, ignited by previous the Administrations’ ridiculous War on Drugs. Clean up your own backyard United States before you judge country of other cultures.

Posted by fyaox | Report as abusive

We executed 175,000 civilians next door to Iran. We continue to use drones to execute people around the world where ever and when ever we see fit. We’re going to now hassle Iran about their… legal process?

America has lost all credibility on matters relating to human rights and civilian deaths.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Thank you, Mr. Panah. You are obviously a TRUE human rights activist rather than a party loyalist like most other so-called “activists”. I don’t always agree with the stances or tactics of human rights activists and peace activists, buy I do respect their beliefs – again, if they are true activists. Judging by some of the comments I see many of the people I’m referring to – comrades – are pouring out their venom. They are the minions who follow blindly their leaders. How dare you, Mr. Panah, point out the abuses of Iran now that Obama says all is well?

Posted by beofaction | Report as abusive

Our illegal immigrants in America pick lettuce and work in Hotels. Iran’s illegal immigrants are ISIS and Al Qaeda members. Big difference. Remember where their country is. It is up to them how they wish to deal with their terrorist neighbors drifting in.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Thank you Mr. Panah for your great article. And I like to thank Reuters for publishing this, and I hope to see more of these true and factual article.

Posted by Peace4iran | Report as abusive

Iran is America’s strong ally in the region, against ISIS and other sunni fundamentalist scumbags. Yet we still pretend like we have to fight with Iran about something. Maybe this keeps the Israel lobby happy? Who knows. Time for Israel to wake up and get along with people.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Capital punishment for illegal drug trafficing is not uncommon throughout Asia and the Middle East. That of course does not rule out the fact that the Iranian regime is a sore on the landscape of the global community, and seeks to impose its will on their Arab neighbors in Iraq, Syria and ultimately Lebanon, a move to create a “Shia crecent” from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea, and all with help from a bold Putin foreign policy and an apathetic, unprepared and fickle Obama administration.

Posted by BroadArrow | Report as abusive