Iran executions hit highest level since 2015, with 834 cases last year

Death penalty carried out against at least 22 women, the highest number in the past decade

Activists protest against the Iranian regime during a demonstration by the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Berlin. AFP
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Iran executed 834 people last year, the highest number since 2015 as capital punishment surged in the country, rights groups said in a report on Tuesday.

The number of executions that Iran has carried out by hanging in recent years was up by about 43 per cent from 2022, said Norway-based Iran Human Rights and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty.

It marked only the second time in two decades that more than 800 executions were recorded in a year, following 972 executions in 2015.

They accused Iran of using the death penalty to spread fear throughout society after protests caused by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini that shook the country.

“Instilling societal fear is the regime's only way to hold on to power, and the death penalty is its most important instrument,” said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam in the report.

Iran has executed nine men in cases linked to attacks on security forces during the 2022 protests – two in 2022, six in 2023 and one so far in 2024, according to the rights groups.

But executions have increased on other charges, notably in drug-related cases, which had until recent years declined.

“Of particular concern is the dramatic escalation in the number of drug-related executions in 2023, which rose to 471 people, more than 18 times higher than the figures recorded in 2020,” said the report.

Members of ethnic minorities, notably the Sunni Baluch from the south-east of Iran, are “grossly over-represented among those executed” on drug-related charges, the rights groups added.

At least 167 members of the Baluch minority were executed in total, accounting for 20 per cent of the total executions in 2023, even though the minority accounts for only about 5 per cent of Iran's population.

Together Against the Death Penalty director Raphael Chenuil-Hazan said the “lack of reaction” by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime was sending “the wrong signal to the Iranian authorities”.

Most hangings in Iran are carried out within the confines of prison but the report said that in 2023 the number of hangings carried out in public in Iran tripled from 2022, with seven people hanged in public spaces.

At least 22 women were executed, marking the highest number in the past decade, the report said.

Fifteen of them were hanged on murder charges and NGOs have long warned that women who kill an abusive partner or relative risk being hanged.

In 2023, only 15 per cent of the recorded executions were announced by official Iranian media, with IHR confirming the other executions with its own sources.

Mr Amiry-Moghaddam expressed concern that a lack of international outrage at the executions, in particular with attention focused on the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas, was only encouraging Iran to carry out more hangings.

“The inconsistency in the international community's reaction to the executions in Iran is unfortunate and sends the wrong signal to the authorities,” he said.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 10:15 AM