The death penalty in general is a leading topic with respect to Iran’s human rights abuses, as the Islamic Republic is consistently the nation with the highest per-capita rate of executions in the world. This record has only gotten worse in the past two years under supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani. It is generally expected that the final tally of executions for the year 2015 will exceed 1,000. The vast majority of these executions are reportedly of non-violent drug offenders.
Earlier in the week, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported that domestic attitudes on this particular issue may be shifting as 70 members of the Iranian parliament have introduced a bill to end the death penalty for most drug offenders. But as Iran News Update previously emphasized, the commentary surrounding this initiative raises serious doubts about its seriousness.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, the head of the Iranian judiciary’s Human Rights Council, claimed to support the bill but said that it would take a very long time to pass into law, during which “Westerners should respect our current laws.” A similar initiative was brought before parliament last year but did not move forward. There is no clear reason why the current initiative would fare any better, much less pass the extensive review by leading religious clerics, which must be carried out on all major Iranian laws.
In contrast to reform bills, judicial efforts to reaffirm Iran’s existing laws and customs have done quite well. Amnesty International reported last week that Iran’s apparent response to the human rights organization’s call for an end to executions of juvenile offenders was to uphold the capital convictions of two juvenile offenders previously identified by Amnesty.
Since then, Iran has continued to act in defiance of the near-universal standard for the minimum age for capital convictions. The execution of persons who were under age 18 at the time of their crimes is outlawed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Iran has signed.
Iran Human Rights reported that on Monday Iran had apparently carried out the execution by hanging of one of its juvenile offenders. In keeping with the judiciary’s standard practices, the individual was held on death row until after he had reached the age of majority, with the execution in the case being carried out while the convict was 20 years old. The same fate awaits a number of other accused juvenile offenders, including four who are being held in one particular prison, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency. One of these individuals was only 14 years old at the time of his arrest. And reports indicate that the four persons may yet be joined by a fifth juvenile offender in Sanandaj Prison, whose case is currently under review.
These particular juvenile offenders have reportedly been convicted of murder, meaning that their executions, individually, would not raise public awareness outside of Iran if not for the shocking fact of their ages. But even putting this factor aside, the sheer volume of executions still raises concerns among many international activist groups.
Iran Human Rights reported on Wednesday that three individuals had been hanged in Rajai Shahr Prison on that day, and one in Tabriz Central Prison. All were reportedly hanged for violent crimes, although no official acknowledgement of the executions has been granted by the judiciary. Seven others in Gharchak Varamin Prison were scheduled to be executed that same day, but they were instead returned to their cells. This is indicative of another objectionable practice in the Islamic Republic whereby death row inmates may be repeatedly moved into solitary confinement in preparation for their executions and then later returned to their ordinary cells.
Overall, Iran has maintained a rate of more than three executions per day this year, and the number of daily threats of execution is certainly much higher than that. Despite the volume of supposedly violent criminals involved in the above-mentioned incidents, not all of these death row inmates have even been convicted of offenses that would be understood as crimes by the international community.
According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, eight examples of such wrongful convictions came recently emerged in the city of Ahwaz, where civil and political activists were sentenced to the death penalty for the vague religious crime of sacrilege or “enmity against God.”