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Iran Executed At Least 280 in 2019, Iran Human Rights Reports

A police officer watching public execution in Neyriz in Iran's southern province of Fars, September 23, 2016.

Iran Human Rights (IHR) has reported that the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out at least 280 death penalties in 2019 including at least four juvenile offenders.

Official Iranian sources have only announced 84 of the 280 executions carried. Human rights activists say many of the executions in Iran are implemented secretly without the knowledge of the convict's lawyers.

The 12th annual report of Iran Human Rights on the death penalty in Iran in 2019 which was published on March 31 has been prepared with the support of the French anti-capital punishment organization Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM).

The number of confirmed executions in Iran in 2019 is up by seven compared with 2018, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, Director of IHR, told Radio Farda but added that the increase in cases of forgiveness of murder convicts by murder victims' families is heart-warming.

According to Amiry-Moghaddam 225 (80%) of executions in Iran in 2019 were related to murder but during the same period at least 374 murder convicts were forgiven by the families of the murder victims. "This shows a significant increase compared to previous years," he said.

Iran implements the Islamic law of retribution in kind (qisas) according to which the families of murder victims have the right to decide whether the person convicted by the court should be executed or not. Thus, the state transfers the responsibility for execution to the murder victim's family.

According to Amiry-Moghaddam, 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 have called for the removal of qisas from the Islamic Republic of Iran's penal law and underline that punishment is the responsibility of the state, not ordinary citizens.

Of the remaining death sentences carried out in 2019 in Iran 30 (11%) were related to drug-trafficking, Amiri-Moghaddam said. The number of mandatory death penalty for drug-trafficking in Iran has fallen sharply since November, 2017 due to an amendment of the Anti-Narcotics Law which has limited the capital punishment for drug-related crimes. The new amendment has increased the threshold of production and distribution of illegal drugs for passing a death sentence.

In violation of their international obligation in 2019, Iran executed four juvenile offenders and was the only country to do so in the past year. The Islamic Penal Law of Iran suggests corrective measures and alternative punishments for children and juveniles but its article 91 clearly excludes offenses punishable by qisas, thus leaving the decision for capital punishment to the family of murder victims even for juvenile offenders.

According to the same law which is based on the Islamic sharia, the age of maturity and criminal responsibility is fifteen and nine lunar years for boys and girls, respectively, so boys and girls of these age groups can be sentenced to death. The execution of the death sentence for child offenders, however, is delayed until after the juvenile offender reaches the legal age of eighteen.

Despite continuous international criticisms, in 2019 Iran also continued the practice of public executions in violation of international human rights covenants. The number of pubic executions dramatically increased after 2010, reaching 50 to 60 in 2015. The figure came down to 13 in 2018 which is the lowest since 2009 when a judicial moratorium on public executions adopted in 2008 reduced the number to nine.

The legal procedures from the time of the arrest to carrying out the sentences in Iran grossly fall short of international standards, Raha Bahreini, an Amnesty International researcher on Iran, told Radio Farda. Many defendants do not access to legal representation and interrogations are carried out without presence of lawyers, she said and added that in some cases the court rulings are only based on confessions extracted by torture.

The report has also looked into the abolitionist movement within and outside 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’ attempts to promote the death penalty and crackdown on human rights defenders.

Iran continued its crackdown on abolitionist civil society in 2019 through increased pressure on activists including Atena Daemi, Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi who are all serving prison sentences for their anti-death penalty activities among other charges. They all have been denied furlough despite being in danger of contracting coronavirus in prison.

Capital punishment is retained by law in 56 countries while 134 countries have abolished it in law or in practice. According to Capital Punishment UK there were at least 546 reported and verified executions in 14 countries worldwide in 2019.

China, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the countries with the highest number of executions in the world.

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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.