According to the figures given in the report, Rouhani has overseen nearly 500 more executions in his first term than his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did in his second. And the website’s figures for the year 2016 are actually lower than those reported by some other human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, which finds that at least 567 people were put to death by the government that year.
The inconsistent figures reflect the fact that not all executions in Iran are officially reported, as the Islamic Republic strives to limit the opportunities for domestic and international protest while maintaining its longstanding legal practices. These practices including not only the maintenance of the largest per-capita rate of executions in the world, but also internationally-outlawed execution of offenders who were below the age of majority, and the use of other forms of corporal punishment including flogging, amputations, and blinding.
Numerous reports have indicated that all of these practices have continued unabated during the Rouhani presidency, as has the secrecy surrounding them. Although Rouhani undertook a certain level of outreach to the international community as evidenced by his pursuit of an agreement over the Iranian nuclear program, his administration has followed the rest of the regime in simply dismissing the well-founded international criticisms of the country’s human rights record.
This phenomenon was on display once again this week when, according to Iran Front Page News, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi decried the European Union’s move to extend for another year its human rights-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The vote on this measure took place on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Qassemi issued a statement referring to the EU’s “double standards and political approaches” and its “abuse of human rights as a tool.”
The Iranian government ostensibly maintains its own domestic human rights monitor, but in practice his role appears to emphasize public denial of criticisms raised by foreign governments and non-governmental human rights monitors on the basis of information gleaned from Iranian political prisoners, domestic activists, and others. Neither this office nor the Foreign Ministry generally provides any sort of information to back up their denials, which, like Qassemi’s statement, tend to focus on accusations of political bias and references to cultural differences.
As these sorts of statements continue to emerge so close to the May 19 presidential election in which Rouhani will stand for a second term, they cast serious doubt upon any notion that his administration’s record on the death penalty and human rights will change in the event that he is victorious over a still-diffuse field of hardline candidates, led by Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the middle-tier cleric Ebrahim Raisi.