By Hossein Beizayi
In its annual review of the death penalty, Amnesty International reported that 2021 saw a worrying rise in executions and death sentences as some of the world’s most prolific executioners returned to business as usual and courts were unshackled from Covid-19 restrictions.
At least 579 executions were known to have been carried out across 18 countries last year – a 20% increase on the recorded total for 2020. Iran accounted for the biggest portion of this rise, executing at least 314 people (up from at least 246 in 2020), its highest execution total since 2017. It is worth noting that these are the statistics that the government of Iran has offered to state-run media, and the actual number of executions in Iran in 2021 is undoubtedly higher. Iran claims most of these executions have been due to a marked increase in drug-related cases– a flagrant violation of international law that prohibits the use of the death penalty for crimes other than those involving intentional killing.
Iran maintains a mandatory death penalty for possession of certain types and quantities of drugs – with the number of executions recorded for drug-related offenses rising more than five-fold to 132 in 2021 from 23 the previous year. The known number of women executed also rose from nine to 14. At the same time, the Iranian authorities continued their abhorrent assault on children’s rights by executing three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, contrary to their obligations under international law.
A review of Iran’s death penalty practice suggests that religious and political offenses are employed in a relatively arbitrary fashion, with religious offenses being used to silence political dissidents and political offenses used to persecute persons having acted against religion.
On Thursday, March 17, Javaid Rehman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, presented his report during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council. Mr. Rehman highlighted widespread human rights abuses and drew attention to the system-wide lack of accountability for human rights failures: “I reiterate the fundamental responsibility of the State to take serious steps to ensure accountability. In the absence of such steps and the unavailability of domestic channels for accountability, I stress the role and responsibility of the international community, including this Council.”
At the start of 2022, there were serious concerns regarding a recent spike in executions. During the past few weeks, Iran executed forty-nine individuals—fourteen in ten days alone. Of the forty-nine, ten can be attributed to drug-related offenses. Sentencing data also indicate a spike in the issuance of the death penalty. In the same recent thirty-day period, ten individuals were sentenced to death, including 27-year-old Wushu champion Yazdan Merzaei, on drug-related charges.
The Iranian regime’s killing machine has not stopped and is busier than ever. Prisoners are tortured to their death, execution chambers have a waiting list, and Iran’s officials, courts, and judges in the brutal judiciary system recognize no halt or break for issuing death sentences. Based on the Iranian regime Prison Organization’s classified documents obtained by the Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), some 5,197 prisoners are on death row or convicted of Qisas (retribution in kind). “Some 107 prisoners are sentenced to amputation, 51 were sentenced to stoning, and 60 death row prisoners were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense in 2020,” the NCRI stated. According to the documents, there are “1,366 inmates with death sentences, 39 of whom are women; and 3,831 prisoners sentenced to Qisas, 144 of whom are women. The number of prisoners with sentences of more than 15 years is 17,190.”
At dawn on Wednesday, May 25, the Iranian regime’s Judiciary executed at least eight prisoners in Gohardasht Prison in Karaj.
Three of these individuals were identified as Abbas Bitarfan, Ali Nosrati, and Gholam Hossein Zeinali. The other two executed prisoners were Ali Montazeri and Vahid Mianabadi.
On Wednesday, Tehran’s public prosecutor also announced the execution of a prisoner identified only by his initials as R.A. who had previously been sentenced to death on charges of ‘Moharebeh’ (Arabic for war against God). Some sources have verified the identity of the prisoner as Ramin Arab. A local source also reported the execution of another prisoner on May 21 at Zahedan Central Prison in southeastern Iran. The prisoner was identified as Abdullah Brahui from Zahedan. According to the state-run Rokna news agency, a 29-year-old prisoner was executed in Mashhad prison in northeastern Iran on May 22.
The rise in the number of executions in Iran and the regime’s insistence on holding its grounds despite international outrage against this increase reveals a plain and simple reality: The regime of the mullahs is on the verge of collapse and is under the illusion that sending Iranians to the gallows would prolong its life.