The Death Penalty in Iran – No Improvement and Broken Promises

Despite a change in leadership and the introduction of an amended penal code, Iran’s aggressive use of the death penalty continues unabated. Our recent assessment of Iran (which you can read here) confirms that hundreds of people are regularly executed every year.  Furthermore, Iran has resumed secretly executing large groups of people, after temporarily halting the practice in 2011 due to international criticism.  The number of people executed on one occasion has been as high as 50.

Amendments to the Islamic Penal Code in 2013 did not limit the application of the death penalty.  On the contrary, the Penal Code retained the death penalty for most crimes that were previously death-eligible and added a few more.  It expanded upon the category of national security crimes, including vaguely worded crimes like “sowing corruption” and “armed rebellion,” which further criminalize political dissent.   The Penal Code also continues to treat some “crimes” as capital offences even though they do not meet the “most serious” standard under international law, which requires that capital offenses result in the death of a person.  Particularly troubling, the amended Penal Code retains stoning as a possible method of execution for individuals convicted of adultery and apostasy.

Iran continues to be the world’s biggest executioner of child offenders, despite requests from the former head of judiciary in 2003 and 2008 that judges not issue execution verdicts for children under eighteen. Based on reports by non-governmental organizations, we estimate that nineteen juveniles have been executed in the past five years. Although the Iranian government has stated that the amended Penal Code abolishes the execution of children, it only prohibits the execution of children for drug offenses and other “discretionary crimes.”  Article 91 of the amended Islamic Penal Code permits the execution of juveniles for other offenses, such as crimes under shariah, if judges deem that the juvenile is mature enough to understand the nature and consequences of the offense. Iran Human Rights has reported that just last month, one person was executed for a murder allegedly committed when he was 17. Iran Human Rights, Execution of a minor offender in Iran,, Mar. 7, 2014.

The new Islamic Penal Code amendments do nothing to improve the administration of the death penalty in Iran.  Individuals can be executed for a great number of crimes with minimal due process protections.  Iran, regrettably, continues to steer further and further away from compliance with its international human rights obligations.