September 14, 2023 | Flash Brief

Executions in Iran Surge Over Past Year

September 14, 2023 | Flash Brief

Executions in Iran Surge Over Past Year

Latest Developments

Since nationwide protests in Iran began in September 2022, the clerical regime’s executions have surged. According to the Oslo-based non-profit Iran Human Rights, Tehran executed approximately 697 people between September 2022 and September 2023, including seven for activities related to the protests. Iranian courts have sentenced another 10 protestors to death, and 82 are facing charges that include the death penalty. The United States has accused Iranian authorities of using torture to extract confessions, denying counsel to defendants, and conducting sham trials in the Revolutionary Court.

Expert Analysis

“The regime’s execution spree and ongoing employment of brute force grotesquely aim to deter Iranian protestors from marking the anniversary of the nationwide uprising against the Islamic Republic as well as from continuing to contest the state from the street.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“Iran consistently ranks among the countries with the highest numbers of executions worldwide, alongside China, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. The elevated execution rate in Iran stems from the state’s use of archaic Islamic jurisprudence as a weapon for suppressing dissent and imposing a way of life that is out of step with the modern world on millions of Iranians.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

“The surge of executions in Iran shows that the regime is desperate, lashing out because its efforts to crush the nationwide uprising over the past year have clearly failed. Yet the Biden administration remains silent. The first anniversary of the protests provides an opportunity for Washington to do what it should have done a year ago: endorse the Iranian people’s call for regime change.” — Tzvi Kahn, FDD Research Fellow and Senior Editor

Vulnerable Minorities Overrepresented in Executions

In 2023, Iran has executed approximately 501 people so far, including 13 women, and is on track to reach its highest number of executions since the regime executed 972 people in 2015. It executed 530 in 2016, 517 in 2017, 273 in 2018, 280 in 2019, and 267 in 2020, before rising to 333 in 2021 and at least 582 in 2022. These figures do not include the hundreds of protestors killed by Iranian security forces since nationwide demonstrations began last September. Iran has consistently ranked only behind China — which does not disclose how many people it executes — in the number of total executions it conducts each year. In particular, Iran sharply increased the executions of those convicted of drug-related offenses.

New Chief Judge Likely to Continue Trend

Tehran’s extensive use of the death penalty reflects the will of Iran’s supreme leader, who directly appoints the head of the judiciary, who in turn appoints all judges. In August, the supreme leader appointed a former prosecutor-general of Iran, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri — who is sanctioned by the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada — as Iran’s new chief judge. As prosecutor-general, Montazeri pushed for harsh sentences for those arrested during the protests that began last year.

Mapping Protests in Iran,” by Mark Dubowitz

Iran’s Uprising Nears First Anniversary as Protests Persist,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Arrests 12 Human Rights Activists Ahead of Nationwide Protests Anniversary,” FDD Flash Brief

Sanctioned Former Prosecutor-General Chosen to Lead Iran’s Supreme Court,” FDD Flash Brief


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