The death penalty in Iran is a source of contention within the international community. The regime refuses to stop the death penalty and will even use it against those activists who opt to fight against the use of the death penalty. On October 10, people around the world marked the World Day Against the Death Penalty. It marks 40 years since Amnesty International, since the organization first began campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty on a global scale.
Counties that are using the death penalty are becoming a minority, as more and more of the international community comes to understand that any benefits of this form of punishment are outweighed by the cons. As of September 2017, more than two-thirds of the countries around the world have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.
Iran’s history of death penalty
Iran continues to execute hundreds of people every year and comes in only second to China in the number of executions that are carried out annually. The Iranian authorities also actively campaign against those who oppose this outdated form of punishment. Activists find themselves jailed for protesting against the system, while at the same time, many have ended up being sentenced to the death penalty.
These men and women struggle against all odds to bring their country in line with international human rights law and standards on the death penalty and realize their vision for a humane society in which there is no place for the death penalty.
In 2016, distinguished human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, Executive Chairperson of the disbanded Center for Human Rights Defenders, was sentenced to 16 years imprisonment. She requires specialized medical care for her serious health concerns, but this care is not being provided in the prison system. The authorities have also refused to transfer her out to the hospital.
Long prison sentences are the norm and their treatment while in prison borders on inhumane. Medical care is denied, and their most basic needs are often ignored. An activist couple has been sentenced to 19 years for the gentleman, while his wife is serving 2 and half years for writing a fictional story about the horrific practice of stoning.
Another anti-death penalty campaigner, Atena Daemi, is serving out a seven-year prison sentence following an unfair trial on charges including “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system”. Her conviction stems solely from her peaceful human rights activities, including writing posts on Facebook and Twitter criticizing the authorities’ execution record and distributing anti-death penalty leaflets. Daemi is being denied access to adequate specialized medical care following a prolonged hunger strike earlier this year in protest of the harassment of her family. Earlier in September, she was denied an urgent gallbladder surgery after she refused to wear handcuffs while receiving medical care in the hospital.
Other human rights defenders who have faced harassment and imprisonment for their anti-death penalty work include cofounder of Legam, Mohammad Maleki, who has been subject to a travel ban since September 2011, and Omid Alishenas who was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment but released early on the condition that he stays silent once out of prison and stops his human rights activism.
These activists also face the harshest penalty in Iran for standing up against the oppressive regime through their peaceful activities and attempting to educate the Iranian people about the larger issues behind these human rights abuses.
Mohammad Ali Amouri, a minority rights activist from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority, has been on death row since 2012. He was handed a death sentence for his peaceful protest activities, including promoting Arabic culture and identity through poetry events, language classes, and reading sessions, as well as his work to reform discriminatory attitudes towards women and girls within Iran.
The growing anti-death penalty movement
Yet, despite all of these struggles, Iran’s activists continue to speak out for their people. The growing anti-death penalty movement has not diminished. In fact, the efforts of these activists provide hope for the future and also that public opinion can be shifted, thus putting pressure on the regime to institute real change.
In September 2017, Amnesty International also launched a campaign to end Iran’s crackdown on human rights defenders. They encourage the international community to take action, including signing their petition, which demands that Iran stop punishing human rights activists for their peaceful activism and their work against the death penalty.
The reality in Iran is that the regime will brook no opposition, even if it comes in the form of peaceful protest. Change from within is not possible for this regime, who sees protests as an attack and immediately seeks to defend itself, regardless of the circumstances. Democracy for this nation is not possible as long as this theocracy remains in power within Iran.