June 7, 2017 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Executions Continue After Rouhani’s Reelection

June 7, 2017 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Executions Continue After Rouhani’s Reelection

Iran has executed at least 20 people since President Hassan Rouhani’s reelection on May 19. This grim statistic offers continuity with his first term in office, which saw some 3,000 executions. It also suggests that Rouhani – notwithstanding his reputation as a moderate – remains unwilling or unable to reverse the regime’s most egregious domestic abuses.

In fact, Rouhani’s four-year record compares unfavorably to his predecessor’s. At least 1,095 executions occurred during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s first term, while at least 2,322 transpired during his second. During Rouhani’s first term, Iran executed more people than any country other than China.

Similarly, Rouhani has failed to address the lack of due process that pervades Iran’s justice system. Trials often last a few minutes and take place in secret. The regime routinely detains citizens without charges, denies access to a lawyer, and applies torture to elicit confessions.

Under Iranian law, the number of crimes subject to capital punishment ranks among the world’s highest, and includes – among others – adultery, sodomy, drug use, and moharebeh, or waging war against God, a nebulous charge usually deployed to penalize perceived challenges to the regime’s radical Islamist ideology. Tehran also frequently sentences juvenile offenders to death.

Tehran’s continued use of the death penalty comes in the wake of Rouhani’s repeated campaign pledges to improve human rights, which mirror rhetoric he dispensed when he first ran for president in 2013.

In December 2016, Rouhani released a “Charter on Citizens’ Rights” that hailed the rights to “freedom of speech,” “a fair trial,” and “competent and impartial judicial” authorities. He then sent a message to millions of Iranian cell phones reading, “Noble people of Iran, let’s get more familiar with our rights and powerfully protect them.”

The incumbent president also denounced the human rights record of his chief campaign rival, Ebrahim Raisi, citing his role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. “The people of Iran are saying they don’t accept those who only hung and imprisoned people for the past 38 years,” Rouhani said.

Yet in 2017 alone, Tehran has already executed more than 200 people, while countless more linger in jail. A March 2017 report by Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, stated that the data she received “did not reveal any notable improvement” in Iran’s human rights.

In reality, Rouhani’s tenure suggests that he remains a loyal foot soldier of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehran’s ultimate powerbroker. In this sense, Iran’s executions reflect its core revolutionary ideology, which seeks to enforce radical Islamic norms as a counter to the perceived secularism and rapaciousness of the West.

Thus, in his landmark speech in Saudi Arabia, which occurred only two days after Rouhani’s reelection, President Trump urged “all nations of conscience” to “pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.” Until then, the West should judge Tehran by its actions rather than its words.

Tzvi Kahn is a senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @TzviKahn.