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IRAN/death penalty: A State Terror Policy

Iran ranks first for per capita executions. Ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, juveniles are often targeted. According to Shariah Law, “offences” such as apostasy and adultery are punishable by death. This in-dept report generated by the International Federation for Human Rights covers Iran’s climate of terror in the name of Islam.

International Federation for Human Rights Report
April 2009


At a time when momentum is gathering across the world to abolish capital punishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) currently ranks second for number of executions, after China, and first for per capita executions in the world. According to the World Coalition against the Death Penalty, Iran executed at least 317 people in 2007, almost twice as many as in 2006 and four times as many as in 2005. In 2008, at least 346 executions were recorded. From January through the end of March 2009, Amnesty International has recorded 120 executions. These numbers are certainly below reality, since there are no publicly available statistics on executions carried out in the country.

Alerted by the increasing number of executions on the one hand, and the persistence of practices that expressly contravene international human rights standards relating to the death penalty on the other, FIDH decided to carry out a study on the application of capital punishment in Iran. The present report is based on documented research. The facts and figures in this study are based on reports of the most reliable and non-partisan international human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, FIDH, Hands off Cain and Human Rights Watch (HRW). United Nations sources as well as newspapers published in Iran have also been used. Furthermore, we have used the original Iranian government sources, i.e. the judiciary, the parliament and other state organs, to access laws and regulations applicable in the IRI. It is unfortunate that, despite repeated requests over the past few years, Iran has not yet allowed FIDH to carry out a fact-finding mission within its borders.

A wide range of offences are punishable by death in Iran, ranging from a number of sexual offences (e.g. fornication, adultery, sodomy, lesbianism, incest, rape) to drinking, theft, drug trafficking, murder, and certain other offences (e.g. apostasy and cursing the prophet), ‘waging war’ on people/God and ‘corruption on earth’ - offences that may extend from armed robbery to political opposition or espionage. A number of economic offences are also punishable by death.

Executions are frequently implemented in large numbers. Over the past two years, for example, the following were some of the collective executions that were recorded:

  • 38 people were executed on 15 July and 2 August 2007, including 16 in public; 4 executions were televised.
  • 21 were executed on 5 September 2007
  • 7 were hanged in public in Kerman on 13 September 2007.
  • 31 were executed on 20 November 2007
  • 23 were executed in the first 10 days of 2008
  • 10 were executed on 20 February 2008
  • 9 were hanged in Birjand, one of them in public, in May 2008
  • 3 were hanged in Ahvaz in May 2008
  • 12 people were executed in Dashtestan in July 2008, four of them in public
  • 29 were executed in Evin prison of Tehran on 27 July 2008
  • 10 people, including a mother of two young children, were executed in Evin prison on 26 November 2008
  • 9 people, including one woman, who had been condemned to retributive death sentence were hanged in Evin prison on 24 December 2008
  • 4 people, Arak central prison, 15 January 2009
  • 6 people, in Esfahan prison, 17 February 2009
  • 5 people, in Esfahan prison, 19 February 2009
  • 11 people, in Kermanshah, on 2 March 2009

Despite a moratorium on public executions issued by the head of the judiciary in February 2008, many executions still take place in public, as may be noted in the case of the above-mentioned executions in Birjand and Dashtestan.

The scope of this report does not extend to other violations of the right to life, in particular extrajudicial killings and deaths in custody. The Islamic Republic has a long history of extrajudicial executions, carried out both at home and abroad. The number of such executions estimated to have taken place within Iran in the few years leading up to autumn of 1998 ranges from 80 to 140. The figure would probably rise to a minimum of 400 if the cases abroad were to be included. Many of those cases have not been and could not be documented.

As regards death in custody, it remains a very serious cause for concern in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Well-publicised and best documented cases in recent years notably include the following: Zahra (Ziba) Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photojournalist, who was killed as a result of a blow to her skull on 11 July 2003. A student activist, Akbar Mohammadi, died in Evin prison on 30/31 July 2006. Valiollah Feyz-e Mahdavi, a People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) member, also died in Evin prison, on 5 September 2006. Ms Zahra Baniyaghoub, a young general practitioner, died in a Hamedan detention centre on 13 October 2007 and the authorities said she had hanged herself. Ebrahim Lotfollahi, a Kurdish law student died in Sanandaj prison on 15 January 2008. Amir Hossein Heshmat-Saran, a political prisoner, died in Rajaishahr prison, near Karaj, on 6 March 2009. He was serving the fifth year of his 16-year prison term. Omidreza Mirsayafi, a blogger, died in Evin prison, on 18 March 2009.


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