The Secretary General released its report on the situation of human rights in Iran at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, being held in March in Geneva. The first point of the report focused on the death penalty. Although there has been a decrease in the number of executions in 2016 compared to 2015, there are still a large number of individuals being executed or sentenced to death in Iran.
At least 530 people, including 9 women, have been documented as being executed in 2016. Non-governmental sources believe that this figure is actually much higher. Many these executions are related to drug offences. On November 23, 2016, Hassan Nourozi, a member of the Iranian Parliament, indicated that there were about 5,000 prisoners between 20 and 30 years old on death row in Iran. Most of these individuals were first-time drug offenders.
Even though the death penalty has not been shown to be an effective deterrent for drug-related offences, there has been no progress toward the adoption of a bill to amend mandatory death penalty sentences for these crimes and no moratorium against the execution of drug offenders.
Additionally, the trials for these individuals show that due process guarantees were often violated in proceedings that fell short of international fair trial standards. United Nations human rights mechanisms have repeatedly and consistently expressed their great concern at this persistent trend, along with urging the Iranian government to end executions and institute a moratorium on the death penalty altogether.
here are also individuals in the Iranian parliament that continue to support the death penalty for drug offenses, which is a concern as discussions of changes to the penal code continue. Those who support an anti-death penalty campaign can find themselves arrested. Atena Daemi, an anti-death penalty campaigner, was reportedly taken away from her parents’ home to begin serving a seven-year prison sentence for her activities against the death penalty. The Iranian government has noted that her sentence has now been reduced to five years.
Two mass executions were conducted in 2016. On August 5, 20 people belonging to the Kurdish minority were executed for terrorism-related offences. Concerns were expressed by the Special Rapporteur and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the fairness of the these trials. On August 27, 12 individuals were hanged for drug related offences. Basic international human rights fair trial standards and due process guarantees were also reportedly disregarded in their trials as well.
There is also the issue of individuals who have been sentenced to death row remaining there for lengthy periods, in some cases over 15 years. Those who have been executed are often put to death in public executions. Despite a 2008 circular banning this practice, the government continues to justify its use, including as a deterrent for drug-related offenses. In July, a public execution took place in front of a crowd of people including children. In September, a prisoner was hanged in public at a sports stadium with at least one child watching the execution. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the continued practice of public executions and their impact on children.
Politics also play a role in a number of death penalty cases. Several individuals were reportedly executed in political cases and non-violent economic crimes, again with issues regarding their trials. Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but the trials for political prisoners often ignore the international norms for due process as defined in Article 14.
In August, Mohammad Abdollahi, an alleged Kurdish militant, was executed at Darya. His charges were based solely on an accusation that he was a supporter of a Kurdish opposition group and was sentenced to death for Moharebeh (enmity against God), although he reportedly never committed any armed or violent acts.
Another key issue with the death penalty in Iran is the execution of juvenile offenders. International human rights instruments, ratified by Iran, impose an absolute bank on the execution of any persons who were under 18 at the time of their offense, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime itself. However, the Iranian penal code still allows for sentencing of children to death and no progress to change this has been made, despite repeated recommendations from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Procedures mandate holders and Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Despite assurances by the Iranian authorities that the judiciary was working to prevent juvenile executions, at least five young individuals who were below the age of 18 at the time of their offense in 2016. Between 80 to 160 individuals convicted as children were reportedly on death row as of December 2016.
Additionally, the Secretary-General’s predecessor noted that up to 60% of the executions in Iran were taking place without prior notice and without informing the family. Same-sex relations was also being punished with the death penalty, partners being reportedly forced to describe their consensual sex acts as rape to avoid a death sentence.
As a result of multiple issues regarding the use of the death penalty, the international community continues to encourage the Iranian government to suspend the use of the death penalty, particularly in regards to cases with a juvenile offender or drug-related offenses.