More than 40 people were hanged in Iran in the first 22 days of this year, senior United Nations officials have just revealed. In a report just published on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed and Christopher Heyns said there had been a surge in summary executions in Iran. Those put to death included a number of people accused of acting against national security. The two UN Special Raporteurs called on Tehran to put an immediate halt to any further hangings.
According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the majority of the executions were for drug-related offences; however, a number of detainees were executed for the crime of ‘Moharabeh’ (enmity against God), or acting against national security. The Iranian Government has in the past used this charge to execute anti-government protestors, and any other person who publicly criticises the establishment. The great massacre of 1988 in Iran saw the Ayatollah regime summarily execute thousands of prisoners over five months for politically opposing the newly established Islamic regime as a result of the 1979 revolution, and unilaterally labelled them as members of the MEK, a fundamental Islamic guerrilla organisation who endorse a Marxist ideology. However, monarchists; socialists and leftists were also executed, charged by the regime as being MEK members.
The protests following the disputed 2009 Presidential elections also had its share of arbitrary arrests, detentions and an on-site shoot to kill policy as fierce reprisal against those protesting peacefully in the streets. During his Friday prayer sermon in 2009, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had warned that if the people of Iran did not end their street protests and return to their homes, the ensuing “bloodshed and chaos” would be the “opposition leaders’ responsibility”.
In a press release, Rapporteur Heyns commented “We are dismayed at the continued application of the death penalty with alarming frequency by the authorities, despite repeated calls for Iran to establish a moratorium on executions”. Heyns further commented that “the inherently cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty” demonstrates that the Government is proceeding with executions that fail to meet the established standard threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ as required by international law.
Rapporteur Shaheed expressed deep concern at the increase in executions of political activists and individuals from ethnic minority groups, stating “the persistent execution of individuals for exercising their rights to freedom of assembly, association, and affiliation to minority groups contravenes universally accepted human rights principles and norms”.
The Special Rapporteurs urged the Government of Iran, as an active member of the international community, to heed the calls for a moratorium on executions, especially in cases relating to political activists and alleged drug-offences.
“We urge the Iranian authorities at least to restrict the use of the death penalty to what is permissible as an exception under international law, and namely to limit its imposition only for the crime of intentional killing, and to respect stringently international standards guaranteeing fair trial and due process for those facing the death penalty”.
Unlike Iran and China, who have the highest rates of executions in the world, the UK abolished the imposition of the death penalty ‘in all circumstances’ in 1998; however, the last execution took place in 1964, where Peter Allen was executed for the murder of John West. In 1965, Labour MP Sydney Silverman commenced a Bill to abolish capital punishment, which was passed by both Houses of Parliament. On 24th June, 2013, a Bill titled the ‘Capital Punishment Bill 2013-14’ was presented to Parliament calling for the reinstatement of Capital Punishment for certain offences. The Bill was sponsored by Mr. Philip Hollobone; however, it was not discussed and was shortly withdrawn without a view to progressing further.
As a result of the 13th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, the UK is prohibited from reinstating capital punishment for as long as it is party to the Convention.
For many, it is with relief that the proposed reinstatement of being hanged at the gallows in the UK was halted and withdrawn; for others, it is a continued concern that the ceaseless execution of detainees in Iran is increasing.
Washington is currently in negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme; perhaps the international community will one day negotiate a better human rights record for a country that descended from the empire of King Cyrus the Great of Persia, whose ‘Cyrus Cylinder’ bears history's first ever charter of human rights. A replica of the Cyrus Cylinder with the inscription of the charter can be found above the entrance to the UN Headquarters in New York.