Cruel and Inhuman: Executions and Other Punishment in Iran

Iran’s judicial system remains among the most brutal in the world. Iran executes more people per capita than any other country, and carries out more total executions than any nation but China (whose population is over 17 times the size of Iran’s). Tehran continues to target political dissidents and ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities for execution. Capital punishment can be—and often is—carried out against juvenile offenders and for nonviolent crimes.

The cruelty and inhumanity of Iran’s system of punishment goes well beyond executions, however. Individuals may be arrested and indefinitely detained without charge or on trumped-up offenses; subject to degrading treatment, including torture, in order to extract confessions; denied rights such as access to legal counsel and fair and speedy trial; and incarcerated in overcrowded prisons where they are subject to torture, rape, and other atrocities.

Here are some facts and figures on Iran’s use and abuse of punishment:

Executions

Executions by the numbers

Executions in Iran 2005-2016

Methods of Execution

Iran executes the majority of convicts by hanging within prisons. The regime, however, also regularly carries out executions in public, including at least 33 in 2016. In many of these cases, the victim is publicly hanged from a construction crane, an especially slow and painful method of execution.

Stoning also continues to be a state-sanctioned form of execution. In 2017, a man and woman were sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.  Other legal methods of execution include firing squad, beheading, and being thrown from a height.

Other Abuses

Political Prisoners

Iran presently incarcerates an estimated 647 political prisoners. Such prisoners include:

  • Religious and ethnic minorites
  • Human rights activists
  • Women's rights activists
  • Civic Activists
  • Journalists
  • Bloggers
  • Lawyers
  • Trade unionists
  • Writers
  • Artists
  • Social media activists
  • Other dissidents

Political prisoners are often sentenced—and sometimes executed—on trumped-up, nonpolitical charges, including drug smuggling. Consequently, the true number of political prisoners incarcerated or executed remains unknown.

Trampling on the Legal Rights of the Accused

The Iranian government frequently violates the legal rights of the accused by denying them:

  • Prompt information about the charges against them
  • Access to an attorney, or the ability to select an attorney of one's choice (insteaad of one from a pool of lawyers chosen by the head of the judiciary)
  • Fair, speedy, and public trial by an independent court
  • The provision of information to their family about their condition and the charges against them

Torture and Other Degrading Treatment of the Accused

Those arrested or detained in Iran face appalling treatment—often to coerce confessions—including:

  • Torture
  • Mock executions
  • Beatings
  • Prolonged solitary confinement
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Denial of medical treatment
  • Blindfolding during interrogations
  • Arrest, detention, torture (often in earshot of the accused) of family members

Forms of Punishment

Extreme methods of punishment in Iran include:

  • Execution by stoning
  • Execution by hanging
  • Execution by firing squad
  • Execution by beheading
  • Execution by throwing from a height
  • Amputation
  • Blinding
  • Flogging

What's a Crime in Iran?

Iran violates the human rights of its citizens by arresting, detaining, imprisoning, and often executing them for “crimes” often committed merely by exercising fundamental freedoms. Many of these offenses are vaguely defined and can thus be exploited for arbitrary detention and punishment. Such crimes include (those punishable by execution are marked with an asterisk):

  • Moharebeh (“waging war against God”)*
  • “Assembly and collusion against national security”*
  • “Acts against national security”
  • “Sowing corruption on earth”*
  • “Propaganda against the State”*
  • “Spreading propaganda against the system”*
  • Insulting Iran’s first supreme leader, Ayatollah Khomeini*
  • Insulting other government officials
  • Publishing false news
  • Apostasy, heresy, or witchcraft*
  • Insulting or cursing the prophet Muhammad or his family*
  • Insulting “Islamic sanctities”*
  • Women appearing in public with no or insufficient head covering
  • Adultery*
  • Same-sex relations*
  • Fornication*
  • Consuming alcohol*
  • Belonging to, establishing, or operating a banned organization
  • Development and promotion of pornographic websites*
  • Owning a satellite dish

Barbaric Conditions Inside Iran's Prisons

Those incarcerated in Iranian prisons are subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, including:

  • Rape
  • Beatings
  • Prolonged solitary confinement
  • Housing in severely overcrowded facilities
  • Insufficient access to food and water