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Human rights activists denounce Iran’s record-breaking ‘execution spree’

With 251 hangings confirmed so far, Iran is on track to soon surpass its 2021 total, although the real number may be even higher, watchdogs say; trials called ‘grossly unfair’

Illustrative: In this picture taken April 16, 2011, and released by the semi-official Mehr News Agency, a blindfolded man convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and slaying of two policemen waits to be hanged in public (AP Photo/Mohammad Hadi Khosravi)
Illustrative: In this picture taken April 16, 2011, and released by the semi-official Mehr News Agency, a blindfolded man convicted of armed robbery, kidnapping and slaying of two policemen waits to be hanged in public (AP Photo/Mohammad Hadi Khosravi)

PARIS, France — Iran is carrying out executions at a “horrifying pace” in state-approved killings on a mass scale that constitutes an “abhorrent assault” on the right to life, two rights groups said on Wednesday.

The Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre for Human Rights in Iran and London-based Amnesty International said in a joint statement that 251 hangings have been confirmed this year up until the end of June, although the real number may be even higher.

“If executions continue at this horrifying pace, they will soon surpass the total of 314 executions recorded for the whole of 2021,” the groups said, denouncing an “execution spree.”

They said that 146 of the people executed in 2022 had been convicted of murder, “amid well-documented patterns of executions being systematically carried out following grossly unfair trials.”

But at least 86 other people were executed for drug-related offenses for which executions had dropped sharply in recent years until now, following changes to domestic legislation.

“During the first six months of 2022, the Iranian authorities executed at least one person a day on average. The state machinery is carrying out killings on a mass scale across the country in an abhorrent assault on the right to life,” said Diana Eltahawy, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Illustrative: Kasr prison in Tehran, Iran in 1980 (AP Photo)

The report said the authorities have regularly carried out mass executions in prisons across Iran, with up to a dozen people executed at a time.

The groups confirmed a report by another NGO, Iran Human Rights, that Iran on Saturday also carried out its first public execution in two years.

The statement also said that comments by Iranian officials acknowledging the problem of prison overcrowding had created fears that “the rise in executions is related to official efforts to reduce prisoner numbers.”

The rights groups also expressed alarm that over a quarter of people executed so far in 2022 were members of Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority, who make up just five percent of the population.

“The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran’s Baluchi minority epitomizes the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades,” said Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre for Human Rights director Roya Boroumand.

The statement said that the rise in executions has also coincided with the rise of the former judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, to the presidency and the appointment of former intelligence minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as the new head of the judiciary.

Activists say that Iran is in the throes of a major crackdown as protests continue over living conditions in a severe economic crisis.

Labor activists, intellectuals, but also filmmakers have been arrested, including the director Mohammad Rasoulof whose lacerating film “There is No Evil” about the effects of the use of the death penalty in Iran won the Golden Bear at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival.

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