(Beirut) – Iranian authorities have recently escalated executions at an alarming rate, including those of Farhad Salimi and Mohammed Ghobadlou on January 23, with at least 11 people at imminent risk, many of them from minority communities, Human Rights Watch said today.
At least 11 prisoners face the death penalty on political or security-related charges that under international law should never result in the death penalty, a grave violation of the right to life. Prisoners at imminent risk were often convicted on vague charges, including moharebeh, or “enmity against God,” and “corruption on earth.” Other countries should put pressure on Iran to end the use of the death penalty for such charges.
“Iranian authorities are notorious for wielding the death penalty against people after unfair trials to instill fear into a population that has mobilized nationwide protests calling for fundamental reforms,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Iran’s brutal government takes an especially harsh response to ethnic minority communities, including the 11 people at risk of imminent execution.”
According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRANA), a non-political and nongovernmental organization that defends human rights, at least 746 people were executed in Iran in 2023. This pattern has persisted in the new year, as the Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN), an independent non-profit organization based in France, has reported on at least 34 executions so far since mid-December 2023. Most of these death sentences are related to charges involving drug offenses or “intentional murder.”
Eight of those on death row are Kurdish. Anwar Khezri, Kamran Sheikha, and Khosrow Besharat are in Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj and are facing execution, following the recent execution of their co-detainees, including Salimi, Ghasem Absteh, Ayoub Karimi, and Davood Abdollahi, in the past two and a half months. Khezri, Sheikha, and Besharat initiated a hunger strike on January 2 to protest Abdollahi's execution and the looming threat of their own death sentences.
According to the KHRN, these seven citizens were detained by security forces in the cities of Saqqez and Mahabad between December 2009 to February 2010 and were transferred to the Urumiyeh Intelligence Detention Center.
The KHRN says they underwent physical and psychological torture for several months there to extract forced confessions. The case went through various courts, leading to the confirmation of death sentences for all of them in February 2020 by Branch 41 of the Supreme Court.
Amnesty International reported that authorities forcibly disappeared four Iranian Kurdish dissidents—Pejman Fatehi, Vafa Azarbar, Mohammad (Hazhir) Faramarzi, and Mohsen Mazloum—after their arrests in July 2022. They also face a serious threat of secret execution without prior notification to their families or legal representatives. The death sentences of these men, handed down following an unfair secret trial, were affirmed by the Supreme Court on January 2, 2024, and are now set for implementation.
On January 16, Masoud Shamsnejad, the lawyer representing these prisoners, announced on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account that the request for a retrial for his clients in Iran’s Supreme Court had been rejected. He said that “the application has not been accepted due to the lack of inclusion of preliminary and final court documents. Generally, in security cases, the court documents are not provided to lawyers.”
On January 14, the families of the four detainees gathered in front of Evin Prison demanding the annulment of death sentences, the opportunity to meet with their children, and a public trial with the presence of lawyers and media.
Reza Rasaee, a Kurdish Iranian citizen and follower of the Yarsan faith, was arrested in Shahriar, Tehran during the nationwide protests of 2022 and later transferred to Dizel Abad Prison in Kermanshah. On October 7, 2023, Branch 2 of the Criminal Court in Kermanshah sentenced Rasaee to death on the charge of the murder of Nader Beyrami, the head of the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards in the city of Sahneh.
According to HRANA, on November 18, 2022, during the ceremony commemorating the twenty-first anniversary of the death of Seyed Khalil Ali Nezhad, a former leader of the Yarsan community, the commemoration turned into a public protest. Security forces intervened, leading to casualties. Kermanshah's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps later confirmed Nader Beyrami's death during the gathering.
Two of those awaiting executions are Baluch. Haal Vash Human Rights Group, which focuses on human rights in the Baluchistan area, said that on November 12, 2023, Farshid Hasan Zehi, a Baluch resident who was arrested during the protests in Zahedan on November 24, 2022, was sentenced to execution following an unclear and non-transparent online court session, held without the presence of a lawyer.
He is currently in Ward 9 of Zahedan Prison. He was convicted of shooting at a vehicle near the police station in Cheshme Ziarat village, Zahedan, killing a soldier, Behzad Barahoui, and injuring First Lieutenant Mehdi Hashemzehi, a member of law enforcement. Haal Vash added that Hasan Zehi was compelled to make coerced confessions under torture.
Mansour Dehmardeh, a person with physical disabilities, was arrested in Zahedan on October 3, 2022. On January 3, 2023, he was sentenced to death on charges of “corruption on earth” by Branch 2 of the Criminal Court at the Shahid Nouri Judicial Complex in Zahedan. Haal Vash reported that during his 10-day detention, he suffered severe torture at the Intelligence Detention Center, resulting in a broken nose and teeth.
In March 2023, the Ahvaz Revolutionary Court sentenced Abbas (Mojahed) Kurkur, from Izeh, to death on charges of moharebeh (“enmity against God”) and “corruption on earth.” The Judiciary's Media Center alleged that Kurkur is implicated in the murder of Kian Pirfalak, a child who died during nationwide protests. However, Pirfalak's family, including his mother, denied that Kurkur had any involvement and instead said security forces killed her son.
Iranian authorities substantially increased the rates of executions in 2023. During the 2022 protests, judicial authorities drastically increased the use of vaguely defined national security charges that could carry the death penalty against protesters, including for allegedly injuring others and destroying public property.
A report published in April 2023 from Iran Human Rights, a human rights group based in Norway, revealed that ethnic minorities in Iran are disproportionately targeted in executions. The report notes that in 2022 alone, 130 people were executed in the provinces of West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and Kurdistan, a significant increase from 62 in 2021 and 60 in 2020. This underscores the intensified targeting of minority communities with capital punishment.
“Iran’s recent attacks in neighboring countries that have killed civilians and the surge in domestic executions reveals how little Iranian authorities have to offer in the way of positive change at home and abroad,” Page said.