The Islamic Republic of Iran, the country with the world’s highest use of the death penalty per capita, saw a spike in the number of people it executed in September. Some even took place while President Hassan Rouhani was participating in the U.N. General Assembly meetings.
Last year, Iran saw an unprecedented spike in its execution rate, with roughly 1,000 executions having taken place by year’s end. The streak has continued this year, and September has seen another spike in executions.
From September 13 to 24, 19 prisoners in Shiraz, Gorgan, and other prisoners were hanged, while 13 prisoners in solitary confinement in Karaj’s Gohardasht and Varamin’s Khorin prisons, and seven 25-30 year old prisoners in Minab Central Prison, were placed on death row. Thousands of prisoners are on death row in prisons throughout Iran, especially Ghezel Hessar prison.
Most of Iran’s death sentences stem from drug charges or, less commonly, “crimes against God”. The Iranian justice system is notorious for its unfair trials in which prisoners are sometimes detained for weeks or months without access to lawyers or their families. Individuals are often detained without explanation and are unable to see their families. It is not uncommon for political dissidents, union organizers, and activists to be jailed without warning, especially those belonging to religious or ethnic minorities.
Blinding, flagellation, and removal of fingers or hands are common and sometimes practiced in public, in violation of international anti-torture and anti-cruelty laws. Iran also executes minors and has executed pregnant women in the past.
In 1988, 30,000 prisoners in Iran were rounded up (some being re-arrested after having served their sentences) and executed in groups over a 6-month period. Most were members of the People’s Mojahiden of Iran (PMOI, or MEK), the largest Iranian political opposition group at the time.The executions were instigated by a fatwa, or religious dictate, issued by Ayatollah Khomeini to the Iranian government and security forces. Many of the high-level ministers responsible for orchestrating the massacre are still in power in Iran, including current Justice Minister Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi.
On Friday, Iranian courts overturned the appeal of celebrated journalist and activist Narges Mohammadi, who will have to serve 10 years of a 16 year sentence (under a law imposed last year, only the most severe of multiple sentences must be served). Mohammadi was arrested in May on charges of threatening national security and defying the regime through her anti-death penalty campaign.
Mohammadi first gained prominence in 2014 after defending women who had acid thrown on them in the city of Esfahan for dressing immodestly while she was vice president of the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran. The 20-day hunger strike she began while in Evin Prison drew international attention and inspired other hunger strikes. Amnesty International and other human rights watchdog groups have cried out against Mohammadi’s imprisonment, both due to its arbitrary nature and the fact that Mohammadi is believed to be critically ill.
Amnesty International’s Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther, said that “it is particularly shocking that this sentence comes as Iran’s authorities are preparing for renewed bilateral dialogue with the EU, given that Narges Mohammadi was convicted for her work campaigning against the death penalty and meeting with the former EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. This casts serious doubts over Iran’s commitment to engage meaningfully with the EU on human rights issues.”
“Narges Mohammadi’s conviction and sentence must be quashed and the authorities must order her immediate and unconditional release. We urge the EU to make these calls, too, and put the heightened repression of human rights defenders in Iran at the heart of their dialogue.”