Executions in Iran surged 75% in 2022, rights groups say

There were 582 executions last year while 151 have been killed so far in 2023

Iranians living in Chile protest outside the UN building in Santiago. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Iran executed almost 600 people last year in an attempt to spread fear, rights groups said on Thursday after months of anti-regime protests.

Tehran executed at least 582 people last year — the highest number since 2015, according to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty.

In 2021, Iran was second to China for the most number of executions.

It has executed several prominent figures in recent years, including top athletes, journalist Ruhollah Zam and former deputy defence minister Alireza Akbari, a British-Iranian national.

The surge came as Iran was rocked by nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody, sparking public fury against Tehran and its hardline rule.

More than 500 people were killed in the ensuing crackdown by security forces.

It regularly executes people convicted of drug-related charges and moharebeh, or “enmity against God”, and often executes juvenile offenders.

Relatives say loved ones are often moved to solitary confinement without notifying the family of their imminent execution and that the authorities bury prisoners without family members being present.

Tehran has sentenced at least a dozen people to death this year, according to Amnesty International, which warned of a “chilling execution spree” last month.

Authorities use the death penalty to repress ethnic minorities, the rights group said, executing at least one Arab, 14 Kurds and 13 Balochis after “grossly unfair trials”.

At least 94 people were killed in January and February this year, according to findings from Amnesty and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre.

“It is harrowing that executions routinely occur amid the systematic use of torture-tainted ‘confessions’ to convict defendants,” said Amnesty's Diana Eltahawy.

Pope Francis has spoken out against the executions.

“The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported state justice, since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance,” he said in January.

Two women are among the 151 executed so far this year, according to Iran Human Rights.

Four people have been executed over the recent protests, described by the UN as “state-sanctioned killing”.

Mohsen Shekari, 23, was the first to be executed in December, a week after four people were put to death for allegedly co-operating with Israeli intelligence.

Dozens of others are on death row for joining the demonstrations, which Tehran has blamed on foreign powers, particularly the US and Israel.

All were found guilty of moharebeh after speedy trials — in some cases those accused were given only 15 minutes to defend themselves.

Western powers issued new sanctions over the executions, targeting members of Iran's judiciary and senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Authorities said the men had killed members of the security forces, but rights groups and activists denounced the trials as “sham hearings” with little evidence.

The family of Jamshid Sharmahd, a US resident on death row in Iran, told The National that US President Joe Biden has failed him.

Mr Sharmahd, an outspoken critic of the regime, was abducted in 2020 and taken to Iran, where authorities accused him of involvement in a 2008 mosque bombing.

He denies the charges.

Updated: April 13, 2023, 1:29 PM