The Death Penalty in Iran
|Event Name||The Death Penalty in Iran|
|Start Date||20th Apr 2011|
A discussion hosted by the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies
Ranked only second to China, in terms of number of executions, Iran flouts the global death penalty trend. The number of executions carried out in Iran continues to rise year on year. The insurmountable rate of executions, paired with an impenetrable political regime, means that it is tempting to step back in impotence and resort to the trusted 'letter of condemnation' on the issue. However, this approach, borne of the overwhelming nature of the obstacle, promotes a sense of apathy, a disassociation with the details, instead, simply inducing observation from afar. But the situation in Iran raises many pertinent questions, understanding of which is dependent on engaging with the issue. Important issues are raised through discussion of the death penalty in Iran, issues which are cross-culturally relevant and often absent from general death penalty discourse, such as gender discrimination and extrajudicial killings. The Iran Liberty Association is an organisation run by individuals who have been directly affected by the brutal regime in Iran, who seek to do more than simply write letters of condemnation, but to effect change, supporting a secular democracy, abolition of the death penalty, and bringing the intricacies of the Iranian system to light.
Recently, panellists from the Iran Liberty Association (ILA) joined us to discuss their experiences under a sentence of death in Iran. Zohreh Moalemi and Mehdi Khayyeri’s moving accounts of the horrors they endured, served to remind those present of the harsh reality of the death penalty, in stark contrast to the sanitised debate spouted by those often far removed from the systems in which it operates. Death penalty discourse too often focuses on lofty academic pronouncements of philosophical morality, or scrutiny of legislative lacunae and legal argument. The ILA panellists cut through the usual rhetoric with first-hand accounts of state sponsored killing, which served to illustrate the cross-cultural similarities of how the death penalty is imposed worldwide. It was clear from the discussion that whether the death penalty is heavily regulated or used routinely, it always targets the most marginalised in society. The country context will dictate which attributes signify marginalisation, in Iran it is largely state opposition and/or gender, in the US it is primarily race and/or mental health.
Zohreh Moalemi recounted her time in an Iranian prison and recalled the gendered rituals intrinsic to the death sentence in Iran:
“In Iran it is believed that if a woman dies a virgin she will go to heaven. As such, to prevent this, it is the prison guards’ job to rape women before they are executed.”
“When people are stoned, they are buried in the ground. If they manage to escape from the burial, they are allowed to go free. Men are buried to their wastes. Women are buried up to their shoulders. Under the current regime, gender discrimination permeates every aspect of Iranian society, even the method of execution.”
The prevalence of extrajudicial killings was also drawn upon by our panellists, whose personal experiences were described in sobering detail. Mehdi Khayyeri’s account of the execution of his family highlighted the significance and relevance of extrajudicial killing to death penalty discourse. When a judicial system is so heavily influenced by state authority, the difference between the death penalty and extrajudicial killing becomes inconsequential. However, the conceptual line between extrajudicial killing and the death penalty was not the only angle which the ILA's discussion prompted. It also gave cause to question whether abolition should be celebrated if a state abolishes the death penalty, but continues to execute people extrajudicially? The ILA highlighted the need for extrajudicial executions to be taken account of in abolition strategies.
Lis Carter spoke of the murder of Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf, which also lent weight to this point. Forced to live in exile, due to the certainty of receiving the death penalty in Iran, Iranian refugees have established a home in the Iraq desert. However, their safety from the death penalty in Iran is rendered immaterial, since they are now targeted by Iraqi forces. Many have been killed. A real threat of death exists for those in Camp Ashraf, despite being free from the threat of the 'death penalty', as with those prisoners, who escape the death penalty, only to be detained in uninhabitable prison conditions for life, the ever real threat of death and indignity continues, prompting abolitionists to consider the wider spectrum of related discourse relevant to their ultimate aim and a reassessment of abolitionist indices for success.
The CCPS would like to thank the ILA for sharing their experiences at the discussion. To find out more about the ILA and the death penalty in Iran, please go to: iranliberty.org.uk