An Oslo-based human rights organization monitoring the death penalty in Iran has disclosed that the country has executed nearly 6,000 people over the past decade.
In its annual report published on February 26, Iran Human Rights (IRH) announced it had evidence showing that almost 6,000 people were executed in the fourth decade since the establishment of the so-called Islamic Republic in Iran.
The report, which focused on executions over the past year, maintained that in 2018 at least 273 people were executed in Iran. This is the lowest number since 2007 and represents a 47 percent drop from the previous year. IHR also noted that the reduction is mainly due to a decline in the number of drug-related executions, following the enforcement of amendments to the anti-narcotics law, which aims to restrict the use of the death penalty for such offenses. The number of drug-related executions declined from 230 in 2017 to 24 in 2018, according to the report.
“This is probably the most significant step toward limitation in the use of the death penalty in the history of the Islamic Republic and probably 2018’s most significant change in death penalty trends worldwide. We hope it is the first step of many that the Iranian authorities must take in order to improve their dark human rights record,” IHR spokesman Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said.
IHR insisted that due to a lack of transparency it is not known how many death sentences have been commuted thanks to the new legislation but the execution of 20 drug offenders in the last three months of the year gives "one reason to fear" that the reduction of drug-related death sentences might have come to an end.
IHR criticized the legal procedures behind the death penalty in Iran. "Lack of due process, legal provisions contrary to international human rights treaties, public executions, juvenile executions, harassment of human rights defenders, and a lack of transparency on use of the death penalty remain major issues [in Iran]," it said in the report.
In violation of international obligations, IHR noted, Iranian authorities continue to execute juvenile offenders. At least six juvenile offenders were executed in 2018, one more than the previous year, and several juveniles are in danger of execution, it reported.
Amnesty International and UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of the Human Rights in Iran Javaid Rehman have also recently raised deep concern over the execution of juvenile offenders in Iran.
In his latest report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on February 27, British-Pakistani legal scholar and professor of Islamic law and international law at Brunel University Javaid Rehman said children as young as 9 years old can still be executed in Iran, noting that at least 33 minors have been executed in the country since 2013.
Despite its commitment to the international conventions, Iran is the only country in the world that still executes underage offenders.
IHR reported that only 34 percent of the executions in Iran were publicly announced by the ruling establishment, and the rest were divulged by IHR sources in the country. Seventy percent of executions in 2018 were related to murder charges.
"In 2018, the Iranian authorities once again displayed their systematic violations of due process and the rule of law. Televised confessions, unfair trials, and reports of torture are reminders of the fact that sustainable improvements in the status of human rights and serious steps towards abolition of the death penalty are not possible without fundamental changes in Iran’s judicial system," IHR said.
IHR said that the Iranian authorities have demonstrated their willingness to use the death penalty as a means to intimidate civil society and counteract public protests.
Referring to the brutal suppression of Sufi dervishes of the Gonabadi denomination, IHR highlighted the execution of dervish Mohammad Salas, who was executed for allegedly running a bus over the security forces and killing three. Salas and his lawyer, prominent Iranian legal counsel, Zeinab Taheri, had argued that he had not even been present at the scene of the crime.
IHR also noted the execution of three members of another minority group, saying that Iran used the execution of Kurdish political prisoners as a means of intimidating growing Kurdish civil movements while threatening striking truck drivers and shopkeepers with the death penalty.
"These are just a few examples of how the Iranian authorities use the death penalty as an instrument of oppression of the people," IHR said.
The Iranian Criminal Code allows for several execution methods, including hanging, firing squad, crucifixion, and stoning. However, hanging has been the only method used since 2010.
The 11th Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran by IHR and ECPM coincides with the 40th anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution and the downfall of the monarchy.
IHR's report does not include extrajudicial killings at Iranian prisons.
Iran is believed to execute the most people per capita and ranks second worldwide for the number of executions. The extensive list of crimes punishable by death in Iran includes alcohol consumption, sexual relations, and drug trafficking as well as plotting against the regime, “spreading corruption on Earth,” and “waging war against God.”