Iran Human rights (IHR); March 31, 2020: The 12th annual report on the death penalty by Iran Human Rights (IHR) and ECPM (Together Against the Death Penalty) provides an assessment and analysis of the death penalty trends in 2019 in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It sets out the number of executions in 2019, the trend compared to previous years, the legislative framework and procedures, charges, geographic distribution and a monthly breakdown of executions. Lists of the female and juvenile offenders executed in 2019 are also included in the tables.
The report also looks into the abolitionist movement within Iran, including the forgiveness movement and its contribution to limiting the use of the death penalty, the artists and filmmakers attempting to promote abolition, and the authorities’ attempt to promote the death penalty and crackdown on human rights defenders.
The 2019 report is the result of hard work from IHR members and supporters who took part in reporting, documenting, collecting, analyzing and writing its content. We are especially grateful to IHR sources inside Iran who, by reporting on unannounced and secret executions in 27 different prisons, incur significant risk. Due to the very difficult context, the lack of transparency and the obvious risks and limitations that human rights defenders face in the Islamic Republic of Iran, this report does not give a complete picture of the use of the death penalty in Iran by any means. There are reported executions which are not included in this report due to a lack of sufficient details or an inability to confirm cases through two different sources. However, this report tries to give the most complete and realistic figures possible in the present circumstances. The current report does not include suspicious deaths of prisoners, nor the hundreds who were killed as a result of direct attempted shooting by the security forces at the protestors during the November nationwide protests.
2019 ANNUAL REPORT AT A GLANCE
The 12th Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, by IHR and ECPM, is being published while thousands of Iranians are mourning the loss of their loved ones who were killed by the Islamic Republic’s security forces in the November 2019 nationwide protests. The crackdown on the civil society has been unprecedented and many human rights defenders and lawyers have been sentenced to heavy prison sentences.
This report shows that at least 280 people were executed in 2019 in Iran. This is approximately at the same level as in 2018 when at least 273 people were executed according to our report. In 2018 we observed a 47% drop in the number of executions compared to 2017. The significant decrease was due to implementation of the new amendments to the Anti-Narcotics Law, reducing the number of drug-related executions from 230 in 2017 to 24 in 2018. According to this report, at least 30 people were executed for drug-related charges in 2019 which is slightly higher than in 2018 but significantly lower than the average yearly drug-related executions which were 360 between 2010 and 2017.
This indicates that the changes in the Anti-Narcotics Law that were enforced at the end of 2017 have led to a limitation in the use of the death penalty for drug-related charges for two consecutive years. It is important to emphasize that sustained international pressure was detrimental in forcing the Iranian authorities to implement reforms in the Anti-Narcotics Law leading to this significant decrease. The Iranian authorities have admitted on several occasions that the political cost of drug-related executions has become too high.4 Despite the restriction of the use of the death penalty for drug offences, the Islamic Republic of Iran remains the world’s biggest executioner after China.
As in 2018, the majority of those executed in 2019 in Iran were charged with murder and sentenced to qisas (retribution in kind). At least 225 people were executed for murder charges in 2019. This is the second-highest number of annual qisas executions in the last 10 years. The Iranian authorities claim that qisas is the right of the plaintiff who can decide whether the convict should be executed or not, and thus put the responsibility of the death sentence on the shoulders of the murder victim’s family. Commenting on the Iranian authorities’ use of the qisas law, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Director of IHR, said: “Besides being an inhumane punishment, qisas represents a serious violation of the rights of the murder victims’ families who, from being victims of violence grieving for the loss of their loved ones, are converted by the state to executioners”. IHR and ECPM call for the removal of qisas from penal law and underline that punishment is the responsibility of states and not ordinary citizens.
In violation of their international obligations, the Iranian authorities continue executions of juvenile offenders. At least four juvenile offenders were executed in 2019 and several are in danger of execution. The Iranian authorities also continue their practice of public executions. Commenting on the public executions, Raphaël Chenuil-Hazan, Executive Director of ECPM, said: “Iran is one of the last countries practicing public executions. This shameful practice must end. We call on the international community, especially the EU, to put the issue of the death penalty in general and public executions in particular at the top of their demands in their dialogue with the Iranian authorities”.
More than 70% of the executions in this report were not announced by the Iranian authorities. Thus, the total number of executions, and the number of children executed in 2019, might be much higher than the figures presented in this report. Lack of transparency and accountability in the Iranian judicial system must also be addressed by the international community with regard to the bloody crackdown of the nationwide protests in November 2019. During the 3 days of protests in more than 100 cities across Iran, hundreds of people were shot to death by the security forces. IHR’s researchers have concluded that at least 324 people were killed, most of them as a result of bullets to their head, neck or chest, and at least 10,000 were arrested during and in the following few weeks. Reuters reported that 1,500 people were killed during the protests. However, the Iranian authorities still have not publicized the number of victims of the November protests, nor has anyone been held accountable for the killings. IHR has also received reports about the inhumane conditions under which those arrested have been held. ECPM, IHR and several other human rights NGOs have called for a special session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to address the Iran protests and to appoint a UN fact-finding mission investigating the number of those killed, the situation of those arrested as a step towards holding those responsible for the crimes committed.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs Bachelet, called on Iran to address multiple human rights violations: “At least 7,000 people have reportedly been arrested in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces since mass protests broke out on 15 November”, and the High Commissioner said she is “extremely concerned about their physical treatment, violations of their right to due process, and the possibility that a significant number of them may be charged with offences that carry the death penalty, in addition to the conditions under which they are held.”
Following the November protests, the Iranian authorities once again displayed their systematic violations of due process and the rule of law. Lack of access to a lawyer after the arrest, televised confessions, and reports of torture are reminders of the fact that sustainable improvements in the status of human rights are not possible without fundamental changes in Iran’s judicial system. IHR and ECPM are concerned that many of those appearing on the televised confessions might be sentenced to death based on the confessions they have made most probably under pressure. Several human rights NGOs including IHR and ECPM have called on the EU to put sanctions on the Iranian State Broadcaster for taking part in producing and broadcasting forced confessions.
In March 2019, the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Ebrahim Raeisi as the new Head of the Judiciary. Raeisi is known for playing a key role in the mass execution of several thousand political prisoners in the summer of 1988.
The 1988 mass-executions have been widely recognized as crimes against humanity. Commenting on the appointment of Ebrahim Raeisi as the head of Iran’s judiciary, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Director of IHR, said: “Ebrahim Raeisi should be investigated and put on trial for his direct involvement in the extra-judicial executions of several thousand political prisoners. His appointment as the head of Iran’s judiciary is not a promising sign for the establishment of the rule of law and improvement of human rights.” In November 2019, the Swedish police arrested an Iranian individual for involvement in the 1988 mass-executions in one of the prisons. ECPM and IHR welcome this move and call for a UN investigation into the mass-executions of 1988.
Iranian society has entered a new phase as people are struggling for fundamental changes. 2019 started with smaller protests and ended in the largest and bloodiest protests in Iran since the 1980s. There are no indications that the protests will stop at this point. IHR and ECPM are concerned that with increasing protests and anger among the people, the authorities will use even more violence, and above all will increase the use of the death penalty as their only and most efficient weapon to confront the unrest. The international community and especially Iran’s European dialogue partners must play a more proactive role in preventing the use of violence by the Iranian authorities against its own citizens.
With the launch of this report, IHR and ECPM call upon the international community, and Iran’s European dialogue partners, to press for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and for major reforms in the country’s judicial system, which does not meet minimum international standards. Iranian leadership and all organs involved in the crackdown must be held accountable by the international community.
IHR and ECPM call on the Iranian authorities to seriously consider the recommendations made in this report and the UPR recommendations made by the members of the HRC. Imposing a five-year moratorium on the death penalty, releasing all prisoners of conscience including imprisoned human rights defenders and lawyers, granting freedom of assembly and serious reforms in the judicial system in accordance with international standards are among the recommendations that the Iranian authorities must adopt as first steps towards fundamental and peaceful reforms.