Killing spree: Iranian authorities execute scores of Sunni prisoners in a single day

Press release
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Paris, 3 August 2016 – FIDH and its Iranian member organisation, League for the Defence of Human Rights in Iran (LDDHI), condemn in strongest terms the execution of scores of Sunni prisoners in Iran on 2 August. It is believed that at least 21 people were executed, although the authorities have not provided any official numbers and only reported the execution of “convicts of a terrorist splinter group.”

4 August 2016 - Update : After this press release was published, Iran’s prosecutor general confirmed that 20 persons had been executed on 2 August.

“The international community cannot continue to ignore such grave violations of international law by the Iranian authorities. The execution of a large number of Kurdish Sunni prisoners based on forced ‘confessions’ and unfair trials is an affront to the most basic human rights standards.”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

On Monday 1 August, special guards stormed Ward 10 in Rajaishahr prison, northwest of the city of Karaj, and took 36 death-row prisoners to solitary cells. Death sentences against 29 of these prisoners, at least one of whom was under 18 years of age at the time of arrest, had been confirmed and apparently communicated to the Sentences Implementation Division of the Judiciary. The other seven prisoners are still awaiting the outcome of their appeals against their death sentences.

Also on Monday 1 August, families of 21 of these prisoners were asked to go to the prison the next day to visit their relatives for the last time before the implementation of their death sentence. However, while on their way to the prison, some of the family members received calls notifying them to collect the bodies of their relatives from a forensic medicine centre. A statement issued by the Ministry of Intelligence on 3 August implied that all 29 prisoners whose death sentences have been confirmed will be executed imminently if they haven’t been already, and that there could be more group executions soon.

These 36 prisoners are believed to have been arrested in 2009 and 2010, charged with “taking action against the national security,” “spreading propaganda against the State,” “membership of Salafi groups,” “corruption on earth and moharebeh [1],” and accused of affiliation to armed groups, armed clashes with the security forces and assassination of Sunni clerics. Reports indicate that they spent long periods in pre-trial solitary confinement, were tortured or otherwise ill-treated and forced to make “confessions.” They all later retracted the “confessions”, saying they had confessed under torture. Rejecting any involvement in violence and armed activities, the prisoners stated that they had been detained for their religious beliefs, organising and taking part in religious meetings and distributing religious material. Nevertheless, they were sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials which disregarded basic due process safeguards and international fair trial standards.

The 21 prisoners whose executions have been confirmed by their families or sources close to them were all members of the Kurdish ethnic community, who have faced systematic discrimination and have been deprived of cultural and political rights for several decades. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims, who additionally face religious discrimination in law and practice in Iran. Kurds in Iran are also disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, either for religious “crimes” or political activities.

The executions on 2 August bring the total number of victims of death penalty in Iran in 2016 close to 300. In 2015, the Islamic Republic of Iran reportedly executed at least 977 persons, according to international human rights organisations.

Our organisations call on the international community, in particular those States with economic and political ties with Iran, to
 take immediate action to prevent the execution of the remaining prisoners before it is too late, and
 put such serious violations of human rights at the forefront of their negotiations with Iranian authorities and to urge them to respect their obligations under international law, notably the ICCPR, which Iran ratified over 40 years ago.

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