Jabbari Execution Underscores UN’s Iran Human Rights Report

These criticisms were reiterated by the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Dr. Ahmad Shaheed, as he issued his latest report on Monday and noted that he was shocked by the execution of Ms. Jabbari. The planned hanging was twice postponed, including once when international pressure helped to convince the judiciary to review the case. But neglected evidence was not brought into focus even on that review, and the court merely upheld the death penalty. Her hanging was subsequently scheduled for last month, but was delayed at the last minute amidst continued calls for clemency from the international community.

These calls were not sufficient to delay the execution a third time, and Jabbari was taken to the gallows at dawn on Saturday after the hanging was declared imminent the previous day. The news has since been met with criticism from the United States Department of State, the United Nations, Amnesty International, and other rights groups. Dr. Shaheed identified it as part of larger pattern of escalating rates of execution in the Islamic Republic, already the nation with the world’s highest per-capita rate.

Shaheed reported that 852 people have been executed in Iran since June of 2013. But the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center puts the number at 967 in a slightly shorter time span beginning on August 4, 2013, when President Hassan Rouhani took office with campaign promises of moderation and loosening repression.

Jabbari herself, in a message sent to her mother in April and translated by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described her former trust of the law as a mistake that helped to seal her fate. She also blamed the Iranian social hierarchy for disparate treatment by the criminal justice system, saying that if she had been killed by Sarbandi instead of fighting back, “the murderer would have never been found since we don’t have their wealth and their power.”

Ahmad Shaheed’s report on the death penalty and other Iranian human rights issues emphasized the fact that this disparate treatment and this lack of wealth and power are even more pronounced among specific minority groups that are subject to institutional repression including unfair trials and questionable applications of the death penalty, like those that Jabbari suffered. 

His report catalogued repressive actions taken in recent months against, for instance, non-Muslims, of whom approximately 300 are known to be wrongfully imprisoned, including 120 Baha’is and 49 Christians. These minorities are routinely denied due process and may be subject to the death penalty merely for accusations of attempting to spread their faith.

Shaheed also called attention to Iran’s notorious press repression and its policies against women, which have contributed to such trends as a precipitous drop in the number of women enrolled in Iranian universities, from 62 percent in 2008 to 48 percent last year. Gender no doubt played a role in the treatment by the courts of Reyhaneh Jabbari, and she was only one of several prominent prisoners for whom this was the case. Her message to her mother even indicated that her trial contained hints of a judicial obsession with strict gender roles and gender identity. She said that the judge examined irrelevant aspects of her past history that he determined to mean she was “inclined to be a boy.”

The inclination to stand up alongside men or to fight back against either personal or social attacks has also landed Ghoncheh Ghavami and others in prison. Ghavami has been held in jail without charge for nearly four months following her attempt to attend a volleyball game in Iran, where only men are permitted to attend such events. The separation of the genders has only grown more widespread since Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei launched an initiative over the summer to urge women back into the household in order to have larger families at earlier ages.

Amidst this political culture, it is not difficult to regard Jabbari’s conviction and execution as a warning against women fighting back in situations of sexual assault. But regardless of the particular message, Iran’s liberal application of the death penalty and its habit of executing many prisoners publicly contribute to policies of intimidation.

Iran naturally denies any wrongdoing in the Jabbari case or with regard to its overall human rights record. But rather than addressing that record directly its responses has tended to entail accusations of political bias. For bringing attention to Iran’s rate of executions and its other human rights abuses, Ahmad Shaheed has been banned from the country. Indeed, he has been banned every year since his appointment in 2011, forcing him to gather information for his reports via telephone and written communication with persons inside Iran, and meetings with persons outside the country.