by Hands off Cain 

The election of Hassan Rouhani as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 14 June 2013, has led many observers, some human rights defenders and the international community, to be optimistic. However, the new Government has not changed its approach regarding the application of the death penalty, and indeed, the rate of executions has risen sharply since the summer of 2013. Since the beginning of Rouhani’s presidency, over 2,000 people have been executed in Iran.

In 2015, as of 15 October, at least 854 executions were carried out across the country. If the trend of the first nine months of 2015 were to be confirmed, we would have a record number of 1,000 executions at the end of the year.

The most worrying fact is that at least 560 executions were carried out this year for drug-related offenses, which amounts to about 89% of the world total for such offenses, apart from those carried out in China, whose number is unknown but certainly far less than the figure for Iran. It should noted that all UN human rights bodies have declared that drug offences are not among the “most serious crimes” for which the application of the death penalty would be “lawful”.

The Islamic Republic holds the world record for executions of child offenders, an open violation of two international treaties to which it is party; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which outlaw the execution of people who had committed their crimes when they were under the age of 18. At least 17 juvenile offenders were hanged in 2014, and another 4 possible minors were executed 2015, as of 15 October of this year.

Iran has continued to apply the death penalty for clearly non-violent crimes, and for political motives and dissent. In 2014, at least 32 people were hanged for political offences, as of 15 October 2015 another 16 were executed. Many of the people put to death in Iran for ordinary crimes – particularly drug-related ones – or for “terrorism” may well be in fact political opponents. In particular there are members of Iran’s ethnic groups, including Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs. Accused of “enmity against God” (Moharebeh) and “corruption on earth” (ifsad fil-arz), those arrested are often subject to rapid and severe trials that often end with a sentence of death. According to the Iranian Penal Code, the punishment for Moharebeh is death or amputation of the right hand and left foot.

These executions for clearly political offences in the Islamic Republic led by Hassan Rouhani are the latest chapter in a story that began in the summer of 1988 when, following a fatwa issued by Ruhollah Khomeini, more than 30,000 political prisoners, the overwhelming majority of them activists of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), were hanged for being “enemies of Allah”. While many organizations for the defence of human rights have called it a crime against humanity, many of those responsible for the massacre are now part of the leadership of the regime, including Mostafa Poor Mohammadi and Seyed Ebrahim Reisi – two of the five members of the “Amnesty Commission” that Khomeini had assigned for prisons and that proved to be a “Death Commission” – who have become today, respectively, Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General of the Islamic Republic. The persecution of the PMOI has continued in Iraq where on 29 October 2015, about 2,000 refugees under international protection held at Camp Liberty became victims of a missile attack – the umpteenth of a long series – which killed at least 24 people, including one woman, and injured dozens.

The death penalty is not the only punishment dictated by the Iranian implementation of Sharia or Islamic law: torture, amputation, flogging and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments are not isolated incidents, they occur in flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Iran signed and which expressly prohibits such practices.

On 18 December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly approved a Resolution expressing deep concern about the “alarmingly high frequency” of the use of the death penalty in Iran, including public executions, secret group executions, and imposition and carrying-out of the death penalty against minors and persons who at the time of their offence were under the age of 18, in violation of the obligations of the Islamic Republic of Iran under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UNGA also condemned the imposition of the death penalty for crimes that lack a precise and explicit definition, including Moharebeh (enmity against God), and for crimes that do not qualify as the most serious crimes, in violation of international law. The Resolution also criticized Iran's use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations.

What described above should be a reminder for the Italian authorities, who on 14 and 15 November will receive President Hassan Rouhani who chose Rome as the first European capital to visit, identifying Italy as the “front door” towards the West.

We urge the highest representatives of Italy, a country recognized in the world as the champion of the international struggle to promote a universal moratorium on executions, and for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, to put the issue of the death penalty, and more generally of the respect of human rights at the center of every meeting and agreement with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran, starting from those with President Rouhani.