Can We Stop Iran’s Executions?

Image by Steven Su.

Iran this week hanged a young woman convicted of murdering her husband, whom she married while still a child, defying international pressure for her to be pardoned. The Islamic regime in Iran is engaged in a war against its own people as it executes them for minor offenses or no offense at all. Since the beginning of the year, Iran executed at least 419 people – a major increase from the same period in 2022.

As Human Rights Watch points out, “The charges against the protesters have included vaguely defined national security charges such as enmity against God (Moharebeh), corruption on earth (Ifsad filarz), and armed rebellion (baghi). All of the vaguely worded crimes are capital offenses. The rushed trial proceedings, in which defendants are apparently prevented from having a lawyer of their choice, appear to fall grossly short of international standards.”

Amnesty International said it was “horrified” by the reports of the “chilling execution” of the young woman, saying the mother of two was “subjected to a forced and early marriage as a child.”

The office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights said it was “alarmed” by the execution.

After the death last year of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women, Iranian citizens poured into the streets to defy the government. For months, they protested the cruelty of the regime, but government forces launched a massive crackdown and pushed back hard, arresting thousands of people throughout the country.

The alarming rate of executions has drawn severe criticism from several corners including the UN and the US. In November, the UN said it deplored the executions of a 17-year-old and a 22-year old and urged Tehran to immediately stop applying the death penalty.

The UN Human Rights Office said it was troubled by Friday’s executions. “The execution of Hamidreza Azari, who was accused of murder, is the first reported execution of an alleged child offender in Iran this year,” spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell said in a statement.

According to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group, Iran executed 582 people in 2022 but this year’s total is expected to be significantly higher.

As per IHR, the number of executions has surged to 707 individuals from the beginning of the current calendar year until the end of November, marking an unparalleled increase over the past eight years – and the year isn’t over yet.

Among those who were executed, 390 were sentenced to death on charges related to “drug offenses,” and 238 faced capital punishment on charges of “intentional murder,” as reported by IHR. Authorities executed at least one child offender and 17 women. The implementation of death sentences has intensified since October, with at least 200 individuals executed in Iran.

It is time for the UK, the EU, its member states and the US to take practical steps instead of simply verbally condemning Iran over its gross violations of human rights.

One of the ways the international community can pressure Iran is through diplomacy and dialogue, which it has already been doing to some extent.

A recent cyber attack in Iran which left gas stations across the country dysfunctional appears to have been the work of an unnamed foreign entity. Whether such cyber attacks can force the regime into complacency is not yet clear, but this method too has not proven itself yet.

The dire human rights situation in Iran calls for further measures against Iran but there are in fact few ways the international community can influence the regime beyond what it is already doing. While some Iranian human rights organizations have called for a regime replacement and some level of a coup detat, it is unclear who exactly would replace the regime and how. The powerful IRGC military maintains a powerful grip over the country and it is unlikely anyone will be able to carry out such an ambitious plan.

A glance at Iraq and Saddam Hussein’s rule there demonstrates that a dictator could have total power one day and be hiding in a hole in the ground the next day. At the moment, it seems unlikely that the Iranian regime including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are going anywhere but in the Middle East region, anything can happen. Until something drastic occurs, the Iranian people will remain oppressed at the hands of their government as the regime wantonly executes civilians at will.

Chloe Atkinson is a climate change activist and consultant on global climate affairs.