A protest sign calling for an end to executions in Iran.
A protest calling for an end to executions in Iran. Credit: Gerry Popplestone / Flickr Credit: Gerry Popplestone / Flickr

The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) has a long history of executions since its inception in 1979. The Death Penalty Information Centre has ranked Iran second to China for many years. Based on population numbers, it is evident that IRI ranks first for the executions per capita

The latest executions occurred due to the Women, Life, Freedom movement, which started with the killing of Mahsa Jina Amini in September 2022 at the hands of the“morality police.” Mahsa’s killing ignited a massive protest across social classes, universities, schools and streets which engulfed the whole country. The rallies were led by young women demanding freedom from oppressive and obsolete Islamic rules and practices. The expansion of the protests across the country led to the IRI’s usual deployment of its Iron Fists to crackdown, incarcerate, torture and impose the death penalty on hundreds of young demonstrators without proper legal procedures. 

In December 2022, Amnesty International reported that more than 22,000 people were arrested, tortured and kept in prolonged solitary confinement. 

The detainees were often denied medical care, forced to confess falsified information under torture, and raped. Some committed suicide.

The IRI has always been very erratic in its actions. During the uprising of 2022, the “Morality Police” was stopped from harassing and arresting Iranian women. On July 16, 2023, after several months, they are back on the streets. 

Another example of the IRI’s arbitrary decisions is the arrest and incarceration of Toomaj Salehi. Toomaj, an Iranian rap artist mainly known for his protest songs concerning Iran’s societal issues, was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for eight months without any legal procedure. In July 2023, he was sentenced to six years and three months of imprisonment. His life and safety is a major concern for many activists under this untrustworthy regime.

Under the IRI dictatorship, people are discriminated against for their gender, sexuality, religion, and faith. 2SLGBTQIA+ communities are persecuted with flogging and execution. Those who follow Baha’i are forced to hide their faith, banned from attending higher education and prohibited from taking part in any government positions or affiliated businesses. 

Women experience daily harassment and violence due to compulsory wearing of the veil. They are denied access to, or are segregated in, public spaces, prevented from certain employment and services. The value of a woman and a follower of other religions is half that of a Muslim man for the “Diya” equation (blood money). The legal age of marriage for girls is set to 13 years. With the fathers’ permission, it can be reduced to 9 years. 

The IRI hijacked the promising 1979 revolution and crushed all the hopes of establishing a secular government. The constitution, judicial rulings and criminal laws are based on the Twelve-Imam Shia religion of Islam. A practice of execution and retribution by flogging, stoning, amputation, blinding goes back fourteen hundred years. However, the Religious Supreme Leader, presently Ali Khamenei, has the final say and is above the law. 

The IRI’s executions started in the early months of the Revolution. Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre reports that from February to March 1979, 438 high ranking officials of the previous regime were executed; between 1981-1985, 14,794 political activists, including more than 1,000 children and women were executed. Even after IRI’s establishment and the mass murder of the early 1980s, still the number of executions during 1988-1998 reached 6,783.

The Iran Human Rights Organization (IHRO) in Norway, reported that during the 2019 uprising, the number of protesters killed on the streets by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were about 1,500, while the estimation of eyewitnesses is between 5,000 to 7,500. In 2020, 274 people were executed in prisons and 254 in 2021.

The number of executions rose drastically with the uprising of the Women, Life, Freedom movement. In April 2023, the BBC reported that executions in Iran rose by 75 per cent in 2022, with at least 582 people put to death, as authorities sought a “spread fear” strategy among protesters. In addition, the government escalated the execution of non-political prisoners on drug and homosexuality-related charges. Amnesty International reports drug related executions have increased three times during 2023 compared to 2022.

The IRI’sintimidation campaign extended even further to terrorizing innocent school girls. In April 4, 2023, United States Institute of Peace reported that “between November 2022 and March 2023, up to 7,000 schoolgirls were poisoned at dozens of schools in at least 28 out of 31 provinces”. The press release of UNHRO in March 2023 stated that the “deliberate poisoning of schoolgirls is further evidence of continuous violence against women and girls”.

The brutality of the IRI intensifies when it comes to ethnic regions such as Kurdistan and Baluchistan. Research by the IHRO shows that at least 174 Baluch prisoners were executed in 2022. This includes 30% of all executions, while Baluch make up only about 5% of the population. From September to October 2022, 91 people including one woman and six children were killed in the Baluchistan region and 186 Kurdish minors were abducted. 

During the last uprising in 2023, IRGC used drones and missiles to terrorize and kill civilians in Kurdistan. In the first five months of 2023, at least 45 children were detained: 21 in Kurdistan, 17 in Baluchistan, 6 in Karaj and 1 in Izeh. 

Due to the extreme cruelty of the IRI, the mass protests across the country have gradually tapered off, but the arrests and executions still continue under different pretences. IHRO reports that in the early months of 2023, 354 people were executed. Unfortunately no one knows the real number, especially considering those who were arrested without identity documents.  

Currently, journalists, lawyers, artists, environmental and labour activists, as well as women who challenge the compulsory veil are arrested on a daily basis. The executions continue to be a tool for political repression. 
For further information about prisoners’ conditions and signing petitions to halt all the executions please see the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and Iran Human Right Organizations’ websites.

A Group of Iranian Feminists and Queer Women in Toronto

The identity of the authors of this piece is being kept anonymous because of potential threats to the authors and their families back in Iran.