Iran executions send a chilling message

Amnesty International
Interview with Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

Recent developments in Iran have prompted fears that the Iranian authorities are once more using executions as a tool to try and quell political unrest, intimidate the population and send a signal that dissent will not be tolerated.
There was a noticeable surge in the rate of executions at the time of mass protests over last year's disputed Presidential elections. Although many of the executions were for criminal offences committed before the unrest, they sent a chilling message to those involved in protests.
One hundred and twelve people were put to death in the eight weeks between the June election and the re-inauguration of President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad in early August- almost a third of the total for the entire year.
In 2009 as a whole at least 388 people were put to death in Iran - the largest number recorded by Amnesty International in recent years. Figures collated by various human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, suggest the annual number of executions has almost quadrupled since President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad was first elected five years ago. Many of those executed did not receive fair trials.
'The continuing surge in executions at a time when Iran has experienced the most widespread popular unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, combined with numerous statements by officials threatening protestors with execution, indicates that the Iranian authorities are again using the death penalty to try and cow the OPPOSITION and silence dissent,' said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa…
An increasing number of people have been charged with 'moharebeh', a vaguely-defined offence. According to Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, it is 'imposed for a wide range of crimes, often fairly ill-defined and generally having some sort of political nature'….
There was also a rise in the number of executions of juvenile offenders - people sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18. Iran is one of only a handful of countries to continue such executions, in clear violation of international law. According to UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston 'No state really tries to defend it as a matter of principle - it's clearly outlawed. And yet Iran continues to not only charge juveniles, but to execute them in significant numbers'….
Hundreds, probably thousands, of individuals are currently on death row in Iran. Sometimes their ordeal can last for years. Amnesty International spoke to one prisoner who spent years on death row before his sentence was eventually commuted. In a telephone interview from jail he said:
'Have you ever experienced receiving a death sentence? Have your partner, parents, brother, sister and relatives been told that tonight a close relative of yours is going to be executed? Can you understand the horror and shock of hearing such news? But me, two of my close relatives and our families have been going through this - not for a night or two or few nights, but for a period of over two thousand nights.'


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