Iran and the death penalty: the facts

How many people are executed every year in Iran?

The Iranian authorities have executed more than 700 people so far in 2015. This is equivalent to executing around three people per day. If the Iranian authorities maintain this execution rate, we are likely to see more than 1,000 state-sanctioned deaths by the end of the year, dwarfing the figure Amnesty International recorded in 2014. That year, the organization received credible reports of at least 743 executions having taken place.

How many people are on death row?

The Iranian authorities do not publish official figures or data on the country’s use of the death penalty including the number of individuals on death row. However, based on monitoring work done by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, several thousand people are believed to be on death row in Iran.

How does this compare with other countries?

140 countries worldwide have now rejected the use of the death penalty in law or practice. Already this year, three more countries have repealed the death penalty completely.

How reliable is the legal process in Iran?

The use of the death penalty is always abhorrent, but it raises additional concerns in a country like Iran where trials are often unfair. Death sentences are generally imposed by courts that lack independence and impartiality and are subject to interference from different bodies, including the Ministry of Intelligence. Detainees are routinely denied access to lawyers during investigations, and the procedures for appeals are inadequate.

What offences are people executed for?

Death sentences are imposed for a wide range of offences. They include vaguely worded or overly broad offences, or acts that should not be criminalized at all, let alone attract the death penalty. Among those executed in Iran are also members of ethnic and religious minorities convicted of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth” including members of Iran’s’ Kurdish minority and Sunni Muslims. The majority of those put to death in 2015 were convicted of drug charges.

Why do drug-related offences attract the death penalty?

The Iranian authorities often refer to the country’s immense drug problem in order to justify the high rate of executions for drug related offences. This is in spite of the fact that there is no clear evidence that the death penalty has had any identifiable effect in alleviating drug trafficking and even some officials doubt its efficacy.

Iran’s Anti-Narcotics Law provides mandatory death sentences for a range of drug-related offences, including possessing more than 30g of certain illegal substances such as heroin, morphine, cocaine or their chemical derivatives. This is in direct breach of international law, which restricts the use of the death penalty to only the “most serious crimes”, which has been interpreted to refer only to those involving intentional killing. Drug-related offences do not meet this threshold.

How are prisoners on death row treated?

Prisoners in Iran are often left languishing on death row, wondering each day if it will be their last. In many cases they are notified of their execution only a few hours beforehand and in some cases, families learn about the fate of their loved ones days, if not weeks, later.

How has Iran used the death penalty against juvenile offenders?

The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders is strictly prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran has signed up. However, despite this, as well as the widespread appeals both in Iran and internationally, the Iranian authorities continue to execute juvenile offenders. In fact, at least one juvenile offender is reported to have been executed in 2015, and at least 72 juvenile offenders are believed to have been executed in Iran between 2005 and 2014. At least a further 160 juvenile offenders are believed to be on death row.

Is there any hope to ending the death penalty for juvenile offenders in Iran?

In December 2014, the Supreme Court issued a “pilot judgment” ruling that all individuals currently on death row for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18 can submit a request for a judicial review. This would focus on whether the juvenile offender is found to have not understood the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about their mental maturity.