Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO); April 28, 2022: The 14th Annual Report on the Death Penalty Iran by Iran Human Rights (IHRNGO) and Ensemble Contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM) provides an assessment and analysis of the death penalty trends in 2021 in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It sets out the number of executions verified by Iran Human Rights, 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 2021 are also included in the tables.
The 14th Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, by IHRNGO and ECPM reveals an increase in the number of executions, an alarming rise in the implementation of death sentences for drug offences, and the continous lack of transparency.
This report is being published as the Islamic Republic and Western governments negotiate to revive the nuclear deal, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), without regard for Iran’s human rights crisis. As this report reveals, not only has the number of executions significantly increased in the year of direct talks between Iran authorities and the West, but the 2017 reforms to restrict the use of the death penalty have also reversed in practice. The same pattern was observed during the first round of JCPOA negotiations in 2013-2015 when execution numbers reached their highest peak in more than two decades.
Commenting on the report, IHRNGO Director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: “The Islamic Republic’s dreadful human rights and death penalty records are not included in the JCPOA talks, and it seems that the Iranian authorities are under less scrutiny while the negotiations are ongoing.” He added: “There will be no sustainable Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action unless the situation of human rights in general and the death penalty in particular, are central parts of the negotiations”. ECPM Director, Raphael Chenuil-Hazan said: “In a recent Resolution, the European Parliament urged the EU to raise human rights violations in its bilateral relations with Iran. Any negotiations between the West and Iran must include the death penalty on top of its agenda.”
According to the present report, at least 333 people were executed throughout the country in 2021, representing a 25% increase compared to the 2018-2020 figures. The execution rate accelerated after the election of Ebrahim Raeisi as President in June, and doubled in the second half of 2021 compared to the first half.
2021 marked the year when censorship and the lack of transparency in the Islamic Republic intensified, with 83.5% of executions not officially announced, compared to an average of around 67% in the last three years.
To airtight its censorship, a draft bill was passed in parliament to target citizen journalists. If approved, citizen journalist documenting cruel and inhuman punishments such as the death penalty, can themselves be sentenced to death. Commenting on the draft bill, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: “A real parliament representing the people would work to abolish brutal punishments like the death penalty, instead of targeting brave individuals who inform the world of the cruel and inhuman punishments carried out in Iran at their own risk.”
2021 also marked the year of drug reforms reversing in practice. There was a fivefold increase in the number of drug-related executions compared to the last three years. The Amendment to the Anti-Narcotic Law which was implemented partly due to pressure from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and European governments at the end of 2017, following an advocacy campaign lead by many human rights organisations including IHRNGO and ECPM had led to a significant decrease in the number of drug-related executions. An average of 24 people were executed annually for drug-related offences between 2018-2020. In 2021, at least 126 people, including five women, were executed with little or no reaction so far from European governments or the UNODC. Not a single drug-related execution was announced by official sources.
The execution of ethnic minorities also continued to rise in 2021. Gathered data shows that Baluch prisoners accounted for 21% of all executions in 2021, while only representing 2-6% of Iran’s population. Moreover, the majority of prisoners executed for security related charges belonged to the ethnic Arab, Baluch, and Kurd minorities. Commenting on the execution of ethnic minorities, ECPM Director Raphael Chenuil-Hazan said: “We are alarmed at the disproportionate number of ethnic minority executions as evidenced in this report. This issue has been raised by human rights NGOs, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic republic of Iran and the European Parliament but it still requires more attention by the international community.”
Like 2020, the majority of the prisoners executed in 2021 were charged with murder and sentenced to qisas (retribution-in-kind). At least 183 people, including 12 women and 2 juvenile offenders, were executed for murder charges in 2021. Iranian law considers qisas to be the right of the victim’s family and as the plaintiff, it places responsibility on them to decide whether the defendant should be executed or not, and encourages them to personally carry out the execution. In 2021, two women, Maryam Karimi and Zahra Esmaili, were hanged by their own children. Commenting on the qisas executions, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: “The inhuman practice of qisas has little support among Iranians and is used as a tool by the authorities to spread fear and make ordinary citizens complicit in their brutality and violence.”
In a survey conducted for IHRNGO and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP) measuring “Iranians’ attitudes toward the death penalty” in 2020, 79% of Iranians living inside Iran said they would not choose qisas (death penalty as retribution) if an immediate family member was murdered. This correlates with the data on cases where plaintiffs have chosen forgiveness and diya (blood money) instead of qisas. According to the present report, there were at least 705 cases of forgiveness, surpassing the number of qisas cases by nearly fourfold.
Arman Abdolali, one of the juvenile offenders executed in 2021 had been taken to the gallows seven times in the months prior to his execution. Zahra Esmaili suffered a heart attack as she watched several men being executed in front of her as she awaited her turn. The authorities still hanged her lifeless body. Physical and psychological torture are systematically used in Iranian detention facilities, including as a method of extracting confessions that will become the basis of death sentences. The forced confessions of Jamshid Sharmahd and Habib Chaab, two dissident dual-nationals abducted from neighbouring countries, were aired on state television prior to trial. They are currently at risk of being sentenced to death.
In 2021, there were multiple reports of suspicious deaths in Iranian prisons. Deaths that are believed to have been caused by torture or the denial of appropriate medical treatment. To date, not only has nobody been held accountable for these deaths, but the families of the victims have received threats instead of a response from authorities. Impunity and the lack of accountability are key contributing factors in the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran.
Calls for accountability have been made by civil society and the international community alike. In reference to the appointment as President of Ebrahim Raisi, involved in the extrajudicial executions of several thousand political prisoners, Javaid Rehman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, wrote in his latest report: “The legal structure, including the lack of independence of the judiciary, as well as obstacles for democratic participation in decision-making, together with the fact that many perpetrators who have committed serious violations remain in positions of power mean that people have in effect no realistic possibility of achieving justice.”
In the absence of national mechanisms for accountability, IHRNGO and ECPM joined Justice for Iran (JFI) to establish an International People’s Tribunal (The Aban Tribunal in reference to the month of “Aban'' when the repression took place in Iran at the end of 2019) to investigate the atrocities committed during and in the aftermath of the November 2019 nationwide protests on behalf of the families of the victims. The Tribunal was held in November 2021 and February 2022 and heard testimonies from several hundred witnesses including government officials. The Tribunal can be a step towards justice by revealing and documenting the facts and identifying the perpetrators. This can also be used as a model for other atrocities and violations of international law by the Iranian authorities. Such initiatives must be followed up by effective action by the international community.
Finally, for the first time in several decades, no public executions were reported in Iran. While the halt in implementing executions publicly was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IHRNGO and ECPM welcome this positive development and underline that it must continue. However, recent reports indicate that the Iranian authorities are planning to resume public executions. Strong condemnations by the international community and civil society in Iran can prevent this barbaric practice returning to the streets.
On the launch of the 2021 Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, IHRNGO and ECPM call for an immediate moratorium on the death penalty in Iran. The organisations also call on the international community, in particular the UNODC and the European governments with diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic, to play a more active role in promoting accountability and the abolition of the death penalty in Iran. Today, 146 States in the world have abolished the death penalty or observe a moratorium on the executions. Of the 57 member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation, 20 have abolished the death penalty in law and 14 observe moratorium on executions.