May 21, 2024 | Flash Brief

Jewish Man Facing Execution Under Iran’s Apartheid Laws Targeting Minorities

May 21, 2024 | Flash Brief

Jewish Man Facing Execution Under Iran’s Apartheid Laws Targeting Minorities

Latest Developments

The U.S. government expressed “deep concern” on May 20 regarding the imminent execution of a young Jewish man in Iran convicted of killing a Muslim during a violent quarrel over an unpaid debt. In a statement on X, Deborah Lipstadt — the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism — said that she was disturbed by reports that the Iranian authorities plan to proceed with the execution of Arvin Nathaniel Ghahramani following earlier indications that the death penalty imposed on him had been postponed for one month. “We note with concern that Iranian authorities often subject Jewish citizens to different standards when it comes to determining judgements in cases of this nature,” Lipstadt said.

According to the non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights (IHR), the 20-year-old Ghahramani is being held at Kermanshah Central Prison in western Iran. His execution had been scheduled for May 20 but was apparently delayed. The Iranian authorities have so far offered no explanation for the delay. Under Iran’s application of Islamic sharia law, family members of Muslims murdered by non-Muslims can demand a punishment equivalent to the crime or financial compensation, but the same right does not apply to non-Muslims murdered by Muslims. According to U.S.-based Jewish activists who are tracking the case, the family of the victim, named as Amir Shokri, have been “adamant” in insisting on the death penalty for Ghahramani.

The incident occurred two years ago when Ghahramani requested that Shokri repay a loan he had provided to him. Shokri refused and attempted to stab Ghahramani, who defended himself, with Shokri losing his life in the ensuing fight. An unnamed source told IHR that Ghahramani’s family had been given until May 20 “to convince the victim’s family to forgo execution. If not, his execution will be carried out.”

Expert Analysis

“By embedding discriminatory policies in its legal framework, the Islamic Republic has institutionalized the persecution of Iran’s minorities. Arvin Ghahramani is one of the many victims of this system of apartheid fueled by the regime’s antisemitic and Islamist ideology. This disdain for Iran’s minorities, who have historically enriched the nation, reveals an agenda aimed at erasing these long-standing communities.” — Janatan Sayeh, FDD Research Analyst

“Iran’s laws, based on the principle of Islam’s supremacy over non-Muslims, are horribly reminiscent of South African apartheid as well as segregation in the U.S. Deep South. If the roles had been reversed and Arvin Ghahramani, a Jew, had been killed by a Muslim, then his murderer would not be facing the death penalty. The Biden administration must call attention to this travesty of justice and immediately demand that Arvin’s life be spared.” — Mark Dubowitz, FDD CEO

Minorities in Iran Under Apartheid Legislation

Article 13 of the Islamic Republic’s Constitution formally assigns inferior status to the country’s Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian minorities, who are able to practice their religious duties only “within the limits of the law.” Other groups, including the 300,000-strong Baha’i minority and Muslims who have converted to Christianity, remain unrecognized. Non-Muslims are forbidden from serving as the president of Iran, as commanders in the Islamic Republic’s armed forces, and as judges. Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians are restricted to one seat each in the Iranian parliament and are not allowed to run for or occupy other parliamentary seats. Article 14 of the Constitution specifies that Muslim citizens are only obliged to treat non-Muslims in a tolerant manner if they refrain from “engaging in conspiracy or activity against Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In common with apartheid South Africa’s restrictions on its Black population, non-Muslims in Iran are forbidden from marrying Muslims or receiving inheritance from a Muslim benefactor. The Iranian penal code mandates the death penalty solely for non-Muslims convicted of adultery, homosexuality, or premeditated murder, while Muslims convicted of the same receive a lighter punishment in the form of “100 lashes.”

This discriminatory legislation underpins the Islamic Republic’s antisemitic ideology, expressed through its attacks on Israel’s right to exist and its active promotion of Holocaust denial. Prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran’s Jewish population numbered over 100,000, since whittled down to just over 9,000. In the wake of the October 7 massacre in Israel carried out by Hamas, an Iranian proxy, the Iranian authorities coerced Jews into participating in antisemitic rallies in Tehran and other cities, a practice denounced as “abhorrent” by the U.S. State Department. 

Surge of Executions in Iran

Executions have surged in Iran during 2024, with at least 223 instances of the death penalty recorded so far, according to IHR. During 2023, Iran carried out more hangings than in any year since 2015, according to data gathered by human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations.

Executions Surge in Iran as Protests Persist,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Sentences Popular Rapper to Death Amid Widening Crackdown on Dissent,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran’s Noor Plan Intensifies Crackdown on Women,” FDD Flash Brief

Why Iran’s regime fears women’s hair,” by Tzvi Kahn


Iran Iran Human Rights