Which of the following is true about executions in Iran?:
- You can be executed if the main or only “evidence” against you is a confession extracted under torture;
- You can be executed if the crime you are accused of occurred when you were a juvenile;
- You can be executed if the alleged crime occurred while you were already sitting in prison;
- Your family may not be informed of your execution beforehand, and may not be able to bury and mourn you.
The answer is all of the above.
Iran continues to be the number two executioner in the world after China, a distinction it has held now for many years running. Last year was a very bad year. Amnesty International believes that at least 704 people were executed in 2013. But as of the middle of June of this year, at least 354 people have been executed in Iran. At this rate, 2014 will exceed 2013 in numbers of people executed.
Most people executed in Iran have been accused of drug-related offenses. A couple of current cases in particular illustrate the horrible cruelty and unfairness of Iran’s execution system involving two classes of individuals: juvenile offenders and those accused of politically-motivated offenses.
Razieh Ebrahimi has been sentenced to death for murdering her husband when she was just seventeen years old. She had endured three years of his physical and psychological abuse after being married off at the age of only fourteen.
Iran is one of the tiny handful of countries that still execute juvenile offenders. Amnesty International believes at least eleven of those executed in 2013 could have been juveniles at the time of their alleged crimes. Even though changes under a new penal code would mean that juveniles can no longer be executed for crimes such as involvement in drugs, they can still be executed for murder.
According to Iranian law, Razieh Ebrahimi was sentenced to Qesas or “retribution.” Iranian authorities claim that the sentence is mandated by Islam and that only the family of the person who was murdered can prevent the execution by accepting a Diyeh (payment of financial compensation). In fact, Iranian authorities are fully responsible for executions carried out under Qesas. They carry out the arrest, detention, interrogation, and trial of the defendants and also carry out the subsequent executions.
In another case, four Iranian Kurdish men – Hamed Ahmadi, Jahangir Dehghani, Jamshid Dehghani and Kamal Molaee – are at great risk of being executed at any time. They were sentenced to death after grossly unfair judicial proceedings for killing a Sunni cleric who had ties to the Iranian government.
This despite the fact that the four had been arrested in early summer 2009 and were detained in prison at the time the killing occurred in September 2009. Although they were later acquitted of that charge, they were still sentenced to death for “moharebeh“ (enmity against God) for acting against national security by supporting illegal Kurdish political parties.
The four men, as well as 29 other Sunnis sentenced to death for politically motivated offenses, claim they were not involved in violence at all, and were targeted because of their participation in peaceful religious activities, such as taking part in religious seminars and distributing religious materials. They have reportedly been subjected to mock executions.
Ethnic and religious minorities in Iran are particularly liable to be sentenced to death for politically motivated offenses after manifestly unfair trials in Revolutionary Courts, in the absence of evidence proving their involvement in any crimes, and where confessions extracted under duress are routinely accepted.
Just recently two ethnic Arab men, Ali Chabishat and Khaled Mousavi, were executed in secret for supposedly blowing up an oil pipeline, even though the explosion had been declared an accident. They had been tortured in detention and forced to make confessions which were broadcast on Iranian television. Their families were informed of the executions after the fact on June 12, 2014. They were not told when the executions had taken place and were forbidden to carry out the usual mourning ceremonies.
The Iranian authorities are racing ahead against the global trend that has seen an overall decrease of countries that carry out executions. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran has criticized the use of the death penalty in Iran and specifically urged the Iranian government to end the practice of juvenile executions.
Activists can add their voices by taking action here and also here. Instead of trying to top last year’s alarmingly high number of executions, the Iranian government should heed the calls by the international community to stop the carnage.