It is at least the third time that Kaheh has been informed of his imminent execution only for the threat to be withdrawn. Persons who have served sentences in Iranian prisons have reported that this is a common occurrence, contributing to a constant state of uncertainty as to when a prisoner might be sent to the gallows.
The mass execution comes at a time when Iran is receiving sustained scrutiny from foreign lawmakers and activist organizations over its overuse of the death penalty, as well as its violation of specific prohibitions written into international human rights covenants that Iran has signed. The UN special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, has concluded that at least 966 people were executed in Iran in 2015. This represents a steep increase over previous years.
Also increasing is the number of juvenile offenders on death row. Under international pressure, the Iranian judiciary has ordered the review of a number of these cases, but in most if not all cases the courts have defiantly concluded that persons who were as young as 13 years old at the time of their crimes were sufficiently mature to be subject to the death penalty.
Over the past decade, at least 73 juvenile offenders have been put to death in Iran, in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On Wednesday, the National Council of Resistance of Iran recalled attention to the fact that Iran leads the world on the execution of juveniles, as well as on executions in general. It also accused Western leaders of paying insufficient attention to this and other human rights issues.
Regarding the mass execution in Rajai Shahr, also known as Gohardasht Prison, the NCRI finds that the death toll was eight individuals, but it also emphasizes that the hangings took place at the same time that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was visiting the country to discuss a range of trade agreements and plans for bilateral cooperation.
The Iranian resistance group suggests that this indicates disregard for human rights issues on the part of European heads of state, notwithstanding recent actions such as the Council of the European Union renewing human rights-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic. NCRI official Shahin Gobadi went so far as to say that Renzi’s visit only emboldens the Iranian regime to continue its suppression of domestic dissent.
Accordingly, European supporters of the Iranian resistance have urged a change in policy regarding visits to the Islamic Republic. For instance, the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom issued a press release on Wednesday asking EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to cancel her trip, which is planned for Monday, in order to “make it clear to the regime in Tehran that the reopening of full relations and the reintegration of Iran into the community of nations is contingent upon concrete and verifiable human rights improvements.”
Current violations are by no means limited to the misuse or overuse of the death penalty. They also include torture, the persecution of dissidents and activists, and the general state of Iranian prisons and the court system. The experiences of both political prisoners and ordinary inmates result in many hunger strikes every year, and a report published Wednesday by the Human Rights Activists News Agency highlighted more than a dozen such protests that are occurring right now.
These hunger strikes relate to the refusal of prison authorities to separate violent offenders from non-violent offenders and political prisoners in accordance with the law, the denial of medical attention to persons with severe health problems, and the general lack of progress on cases that are unresolved or under appeal.
While the official response to the UN special rapporteur and groups like Amnesty International has been to simply ignore that there is any problem with Iran’s human rights record, such denial is virtually impossible in the case of Iran’s well-recognized foreign interventions and military buildup. And in the case of those policies, the Rouhani administration and the hardliners affiliated with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appear equally averse to compromise.
The Tower reported on Tuesday that Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, had explicitly rejected US Secretary of State John Kerry’s call for a “new arrangement” that would demonstrate Iran’s willingness to cease provocative activities such as excessive foreign influence and banned ballistic missile testing, which “raise questions about [Iran’s] credibility and questions about intention.”