An execution scene in Iran. Undated

An execution scene in Iran. Undated

Amnesty International Finds Iran Executions ‘Spike’ in 2021


Amnesty International’s annual report on the worldwide use of the death penalty shows Iran as a country with a “disturbing spike” in executions.

The 66-page report, published Tuesday, found Iran executed at least 314 people in 2021, a 28 percent jump from at least 246 in 2020 and the highest figure since 2017. Amnesty drew attention to Iran’s “mandatory death penalty for possession of certain types and qualities of drugs,” with drug-related executions making up 132, or 42 percent, of all Iran’s executions in 2021, up from 23 in 2020.

The Amnesty report, Death Sentences and Executions 2021, also noted Iran’s execution of three people under 18 at the time of their offense, “contrary to international law,” and to the execution of 14 women, up from nine in 2021.

The global figures given in the report are for confirmed executions based on official records, media reports and evidence from families and civil-society organizations. Amnesty notes that no reliable data is available for China, North Korea, Belarus, and Laos. The report suggests that thousands were executed in China, “the world’s lead executioner.”

At 314 Iran was easily responsible for the highest number of confirmed executions, followed by Egypt with 83 (down from 107 in 2020), Saudi Arabia with 65 (up from 27), and Syria on 24. The US executed 11, Japan three and the United Arab Emirates one.

Instrument of state repression

Globally, the number of confirmed executions rose from 483 in 2020 to 579 in 2021, with the number of known death sentences meted out jumping almost 40 percent from 1,477 in 2020 to 2,052 in 2021.The reports relates this increase to both a general return to the use of the death penalty with the easing of the Covid-19 pandemic and “as a clear instrument of state repression against minorities and protesters.”

As well as highlighting torture and unfair trials by emergency courts in Egypt and the “deeply flawed justice system” in Saudi Arabia, Amnesty says that in Iran “death sentences were disproportionately used against members of ethnic minorities for vague charges such as ‘enmity against God’.” It points out that 19 percent of those executed (61) in Iran were Baluchi, an ethnic minority making up 5 percent of the population.

Globally, Amnesty finds at least 28,670 people under sentence of death at the end of 2021, including 8,000 in Iraq despite a fall in executions from 45 in 2020 to 17 in 2021. But the overall trend, at least on confirmed figures and outside certain states, confirms a long-term reduced use of capital punishment: the global figure of 573 is the second-lowest, after 2020, recorded by Amnesty since 2010.

‘A troubling enthusiasm’

“Instead of building on the opportunities presented by hiatuses in 2020, a minority of states demonstrated a troubling enthusiasm to choose the death penalty over effective solutions to crime, showing a callous disregard for the right to life even amid urgent and ongoing global human rights crises,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

“After the drop in their execution totals in 2020, Iran and Saudi Arabia once again ramped up their use of the death penalty last year, including by shamelessly violating prohibitions put in place under international human rights law.”

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.

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