Amnesty International has been documenting and campaigning around serious human rights violations in Iran including detention of human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience, unfair trials, torture and mistreatment in detention, deaths in custody and the application of the death penalty. Iran executes more people than any country in the world, other than China. Ethnic, religious and linguistic minority communities face persistent persecution. The Iranian authorities also suppress freedom of expression of a range of civil society actors including attorneys, scientists, environmental activists, artists, women’s rights activists, trade unionists, journalists and bloggers and those expressing their opinions on social media. There has been a worrying trend of imposing extreme sentences against prisoners of conscience such as human rights attorneys Nasrin Sotoudeh who has been sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes and Amirsalar Davoudi, who has been sentenced to 30 years in prison and 111 lashes for his human rights work, including publicizing violations through a channel he set up on the Telegram mobile messaging app and giving media interviews.
Hundreds of others are in detention; many of those serving prison terms have been convicted in unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts on vague charges including “propaganda against the state” or “endangering the security of the state.” Iranian authorities have used these vague charges to suppress the right of its citizens to peaceful expression and association. The Iranian government has also endeavored to prevent Iranians from accessing information by blocking internet sites and even harassing the family members of journalists for BBC Persian and VOA Persian, which continue to broadcast news into Iran.
Executions in Iran
Iran has long held the dubious distinction of being the Number Two executioner in the world (after China). Iran is also among the tiny handful of countries that continue to execute juvenile offenders—those whose alleged crime occurred when they were younger than eighteen. Further compounding the abuses are systemic problems in the Iranian justice system, where suspects are routinely tortured or mistreated to coerce confessions.
A number of troubling executions—both those carried out and those scheduled to take place—illustrate the increasingly outrageous application of the death penalty—not only for those unfairly convicted of criminal offenses, but also for those accused of vague national security offenses.
One of the most controversial and widely condemned executions in many years was the hanging of journalist Rouhollah Zam on December 14, 2020. He had fled Iran in the aftermath of the 2009 post-election protests and had been living in France where he was granted asylum. He was allegedly lured to Iraq in October 2019 where he was abducted under mysterious circumstances and brought to Iran where he stood trial in a Revolutionary Court on charges of “spreading corruption on earth” in connection with his popular news channel, AmadNews, that he ran on the messaging app Telegram. The channel, which had more than a million followers, shared videos of protests and information about the alleged involvement of various authority figures in corruption. The authorities claimed that his media work involved “espionage” for Israel and France, “cooperation with the hostile state of the United States”, “crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system.”
Another case of Iran’s zealous use of the death penalty is the execution, on the last day of 2020, of Mohammad Hassaan Rezaiee, who was sentenced to death for a crim that allegedly occurred when he was sixteen years old, after a conviction based on confessions extracted under torture. His family was told on December 18 that his execution could be carried out in a week. His case is very typical of the many other juvenile offenders who have been sentenced to death in Iran: the incident occurred during a fight among a number of young men from underprivileged socio-economic backgrounds in a rural area. In these situations, it is common for authorities to rather arbitrarily select one individual to be pinned as the suspect, when it is unclear exactly what happened during a melee involving knives; the suspect is then subjected to brutal torture to obtain a confession which is used as the primary evidence of guilt. Two other juvenile offenders were executed earlier in 2020, while Amnesty International recorded at least six juvenile executions in 2019. There are at least 90 juvenile offenders on death row in Iran. In 2019 at least 251 people were executed in Iran.
An egregious example of the deployment of the death penalty for political purposes is the case of Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian specialist in emergency medicine. He barely escaped an execution scheduled to take place on December 1 after an international outcry, including a letter signed by 153 Nobel science prizes laureates. and was given a reprieve of unknown duration.
Dr. Djalali was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel-arz) in October 2017 after a grossly unfair trial before Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran. The court relied primarily on “confessions” that Ahmadreza Djalali says were obtained under torture and other ill-treatment while he was held in prolonged solitary confinement without access to a lawyer. He had been arrested in April 2016 while on a trip to Iran at the invitation of Tehran University to speak about disaster medicine. He was accused of providing information to Israel that was allegedly used in the assassination of several Iranian scientists. Iranian State television aired the “confession” in December 2017. Dr. Djalali could be executed at any time Activists are urged to write to write to the head of the judiciary in Iran via Iran’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva at the following email addresses: [email protected] and [email protected] .
The Iranian authorities are sensitive to international public opinion so it is essential that activists speak out against executions carried out in Iran. Please take action right away and please share the information with all your contacts so we can save Dr. Djalali who is at high risk of imminent execution.
Severe Persecution of Iran’s Ethnic Minorities
The Iranian authorities have a long history of persecuting its ethnic minorities: especially Kurds who live in Northwest Iran, Arabs (also known as Ahwazis) who live in the Southwest, and Baluchis who live in the Southeast. Iranian Kurds and Baluchis are also mostly minority Sunni Muslims (Arab Iranians are either Shi’a or Sunni). Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis live in the most economically disadvantaged regions of Iran, and face persecution for advocating for more rights for their communities. They are also far more likely to be subjected to severe torture and ill-treatment in detention, to be sentenced to death for politically motivated offenses, and to be executed.
Kurdish-Iranian prisoner Zeynab Jalalian
Since 6 January 2021, at least 96 individuals from Iran’s Kurdish minority, including civil society activists, labor rights activists, environmentalists, writers, university students and political activists have been arrested by the intelligence unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or Ministry of Intelligence agents. According to Kurdish human rights groups, in 2020, over 500 Iranian Kurds including human rights defenders, were arrested for politically motivated reasons and charged with broad and vaguely worded national security-related offenses. At least 159 of them were subsequently sentenced to prison terms ranging from one month to 17 years and four received the death penalty. According to UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, “Kurdish political prisoners charged with national security offences … constitute a disproportionately high number of those who received the death penalty and are executed.”
There has been an alarming rise in executions of minority prisoners; since 19 December 2020, the Iranian authorities have executed at least 49 people, over a third of them Baluchis. “The recent escalation in executions of Baluchis and Ahwazi Arabs raises serious concerns that the authorities are using the death penalty to sow fear among disadvantaged ethnic minorities, as well as the wider population. The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran’s ethnic minorities epitomizes the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Please go here to take action on three Ahwazi death row prisoners on a hunger strike to protest their prison conditions. The men had been severely tortured in prison. They were forced to make confessions of their guilt; a tactic that has been repeatedly used by Iranian authorities to obtain convictions. Please go here to take action on two Baluchi men who are at imminent risk of execution.
Please go here for more information and to this press release signed by Amnesty International and 36 other organizations about the ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, and enforced disappearances by the Iranian authorities, targeting scores of people from Iran’s disadvantaged Kurdish minority.
Nasrin Sotoudeh is a world-renowned Iranian human rights attorney who has won numerous prizes and accolades, including the 2012 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament. However instead of honoring such an eminent citizen, the Iranian authorities sentenced her to an astonishing 38 years in prison plus 148 lashes solely for her peaceful advocacy and representation of her clients—one of the harshest sentences ever handed down to a prisoner of conscience in Iran. If she has to serve this entire sentence, she will be in her nineties by the time she is released.
Nasrin Sotoudeh who represented women targeted by Iranian authorities for protesting forced hijab (veiling), has been sentenced on several spurious national security-related charges including “forming a group with the purpose of disrupting national security”, “spreading propaganda against the system” and “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security.” She had first found out that she had been sentenced to five years in prison for “assisting in hiding spies with the intent to harm national security” imposed in absentia when she was arrested in June 2018. In March 2019 it was revealed that she had been sentenced to an additional 33 years plus the lashes.
For more than a year, since International Workers’ Day in 2018, Amnesty International has documented the arrests of hundreds of workers and other labor rights activists in the context of a campaign by the authorities to repress social unrest and public dissent. Courts have handed down prison sentences to dozens of them, in at least 38 cases compounding these by ordering those convicted to be flogged as well.
The Iranian authorities should also initiate impartial, independent and effective investigations into allegations that some labor rights activists, including Esmail Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian, whose testimonies Amnesty International has documented in detail, have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention in recent months. Anyone found responsible should be brought to justice in trials that meet international fair trial standards.
On May Day (May 1) 2019 Iranian authorities arrested large numbers of labor rights activists for taking part in peaceful protests. The organization renews its calls on the Iranian authorities to lift their unlawful ban on independent trade unions and allow workers to hold peaceful gatherings, including on International Workers’ Day, and to exercise their right to form and join independent trade unions.
The Persian holiday Nowruz (“new day”) is an ancient holiday celebrated on the first day of spring to welcome in the new year. Every Nowruz we remember several courageous prisoners of conscience in Iran with Nowruz greetings. Please send cards with Nowruz greetings to let our imprisoned friends know we are thinking of them at this time.
Abusive policing and excessive reliance on law enforcement to implement COVID-19 response measures have violated human rights and in some instances made the health crisis worse, Amnesty International said today.
Iran’s police, intelligence and security forces, and prison officials have committed, with the complicity of judges and prosecutors, a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, …
Governments who were lauded for releasing prisoners in response to COVID-19 outbreaks have excluded human rights defenders from the measures and continue to make new arrests of activists, journalists and …
There has been an alarming escalation in use of the death penalty against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups in Iran, Amnesty International said today, following the executions on …
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all the prisoners of conscience it is campaigning for worldwide, who are now at heightened risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia executed a record number of people in 2019, despite an overall decline in executions worldwide, Amnesty International said in its 2019 global review of the death penalty published …
Around 36 prisoners in Iran are feared to have been killed by security forces after the use of lethal force to control protests over COVID-19 safety fears, Amnesty International has learned.
As part of a series of workshops exploring human rights concerns related to the COVID-19 response, Amnesty International USA will be holding a workshop titled “The impact of COVID-19 on …
Responding to the announcement by the Iranian authorities that pardons will be granted to prisoners convicted of “security” offenses who have a five-year prison sentence or less, and that those …
An investigation by Amnesty International has uncovered evidence that at least 23 children were killed by Iranian security forces in the nationwide protests in November last year.