Large Number of Iranian Executions in August Draws International Condemnation

The statement quoted Ahmed Shaheed, the special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Iran, as saying, “It is regrettable that the Government continues to proceed with executions for crimes that do not meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ as required by international law, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is State party.”

He also pointed out that many of Iran’s death sentences derive from trials in which the defendant’s rights of legal representation and due process were clearly violated. As an example, the UNHCR statement highlighted the case of one of the 12 persons killed on Friday, Alireza Madadpour, who was arrested in November 2011 following a raid not on the place where Madadpour lived but in a house that he cleaned.

The statement points out that Madadpour’s defense attorney was appointed by the government and that Madadpour was never able to communicate with him directly. Furthermore, his trial lasted only 20 minutes and the judiciary flatly rejected all requests for retrial. In many cases, including instances of political imprisonment, Iranian authorities prevent defendants from selecting their own lawyers and instead allow them to choose only from a short list of approved attorneys – generally those without a track record of successfully challenging the judiciary.

Furthermore, the quick pace of some capital cases helps Iran to carry out so many death sentences annually that it consistently tops the list of countries with the highest rate of executions per capita. In 1988, the Islamic Republic hit the high point of this trend when it carried out an estimated 30,000 executions of political prisoners in a single summer, following trials that lasted as little as a minute.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran has been using the recent mass executions as a starting point for recalling attention to that massacre, which mainly targeted the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. At the same time, the NCRI has also been among the groups keeping tabs on the most recent surge in the number of hangings in Iran.

Although the Islamic Republic still put approximately 250 people to death in the first seven months of 2016, that number was a significant step down from the same period last year. But preliminary reports from the month of August suggest that the regime is on its way to shrinking the gap between the two annual totals. According to Ahmed Shaheed and others, 2015 represented the worst period of executions in more than 25 years, despite the fact that the current presidential administration has been described by some Western policymakers as moderate.

The NCRI recently reported that the Iranian judiciary had put 30 people to death in the space of three days, with 18 of them having been killed last Thursday alone. Eleven of these were killed in a single mass hanging at Zahedan Central Prison. Iran Human Rights added that six men and one woman had been executed on that same day in Yazd Prison, and that five of them had been sentenced on the basis of drug charges.

On Wednesday, Iran Human Rights also reported that Iranian judiciary official Mohammad Bagher Olfat had acknowledged that such executions are not an effective deterrent against drug crimes. As an alternative, he recommended long-term prison sentences coupled with hard labor. But Olfat’s statement was not issued until hours after the 12 drug offenders were executed on Saturday. And whereas Olfat gently criticized Iran’s drug-related executions as simply impractical, Shaheed issued another statement shortly after the executions, declaring that “the execution of individuals for drug-related offences is simply illegal.”

The NCRI notes that Shaheed added, “Combating drug trafficking, a serious concern in Iran, does not justify the use of the death penalty in drug-related cases. The execution of Mr. Madadpour and 11 others shows the Iranian authorities’ complete disregard of its obligations under international human rights law and especially of international fair trial standards and due process guarantees”

But the NCRI itself put the drug-related executions in context with a broader crackdown on political and social dissent, and concluded that the current surge of executions is indicative of “utter desperation” as the regime “plunges further into domestic and regional isolation.”

Whatever the motivations might be from Tehran’s perspective, IranWire confirmed that the authorities appear to be in the midst of “execution fever” in the notorious Rajai Shahr Prison and in other prisons throughout the country. Drawing upon reports from inside those prisons, IranWire described an unpredictable pattern of executions that has left both political prisoners and other inmates in fear of prospect of guards once again taking a large group of prisoners to solitary confinement in preparation for un-announced executions.

Furthermore, some of these executions have gone forward in spite of the fact that the inmates were in the middle of an appeals process. In this sense, Iran’s ongoing executions violate not only international law but also the Islamic Republic’s own domestic laws, since executions are technically not permitted to be carried out until the appeals court has confirmed the capital sentence.

This disregard for legal protocol may be regarded as a tactic of intimidation, especially in light of the fact that prisoners who are housed near to recent hanging victims have reported numerous other instances of deliberate intimidation, including beatings and the use of batons and Tasers. IranWire quoted one Rajai Shahr prisoner as saying that the guards had made a spectacle of taking away prisoners for execution, so as to create a “show of force to make us believe that they could crush us any moment that they wished.”

Recently, such shows of force have also been seen on the international stage, with Defense Minister Hossein Dehqan, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and other Iranian officials making public statements that claim Iran’s domestic military capabilities are now on par with those of the rest of the world, including the Western powers.