On Thursday, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran indicated that at least 753 individuals had been executed in Iran in 2014, a marked increase over the prior year in a country that already had the world’s highest rate of executions per capita.
The start of 2015 has put Iran on track to bring the year-end total up once again, or even to exceed 1,000 executions. This possibility has been reaffirmed nearly every week with new reports of executions that are often carried out en masse.
HRANA initially reported that 15 people had been put to death on March 4 in Ghezel Hesar, and that this figure was actually lower than the 23 that were expected to be executed when inmates were rounded up and put into solitary confinement to await their hangings. The remaining eight inmates remained under constant threat afterwards, and the number quickly doubled to 16, reportedly setting off panic and some rioting as rumors spread of additional imminent executions.
HRANA subsequently learned that another nine prisoners had been hanged in Ghezel Hesar on March 7. It appears that all 24 of these executions were for drug related charges, although in most instances the Iranian judiciary has not put out official statements accounting for the executions – a step that is taken in only about 60 percent of cases.
The regime has been subject to considerable condemnation from activist groups and the United Nations over its policy of executing persons for drug offenses, as this category of crime does not meet international standards for the level of severity that may be used to justify death sentences.
Iran is also reputed to use the death sentence as a tool of political repression, targeting dissidents and religious minorities with capital charges such as “enmity against God.” In many of these cases, repressive actions also extend to the families of the condemned, as HRANA indicates was the case with the recent hanging of six Sunni prisoners who were the subject of unsuccessful international activism highlighting the questionable nature of the charges against them.
After these six individuals were executed, authorities refused to release their bodies to their waiting family members, insisting that all six would be buried at a local cemetery instead of near their homes. Furthermore, only one family member of each victim was permitted to identify the bodies and say prayers in their presence. All others, about 50 in total, were barred from attending the funeral ceremony.
These sorts of restrictions are presumed to help prevent the funerals of political prisoners from becoming rallying points for demonstrations against the Iranian regime.
Of course, other rallying points are more difficult to repress, as indicated by a recent series of demonstrations by teachers who are upset by the Iranian national budget for the coming year, which will result in a further decrease in the standard of living for already-struggling teachers.
Security forces have had limited success in obstructing and dispersing these rallies, but they have continued to take action against those participants whom they have identified. The National Council of Resistance of Iran reported on Friday that several participants in a protest on March 8 were summoned to court and interrogated by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.
Among those targeted was Esmail Abdi, the Secretary General of the Iranian Teachers’ Union, who was reportedly threatened with a pre-determined sentence of 10 years in prison if he refused to resign his post.