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What is behind Iran’s execution spree as Tehran hangs 10 prisoners this week?

The United Nations estimated that more than 200 people have been executed this year so far, as authorities battle internal protests.
 People protest against executions and detentions in Iran, in front of the Iranian Permanent Mission to the UN in New York City on December 17, 2022. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran executed on Wednesday seven people on rape and drug-related charges, bringing the total to at least 10 confirmed cases of prisoners hanged this week, as rights groups sound the alarm over the “chilling” execution spree in the Islamic Republic.

Iran Human Rights (IHR) said in a report that four people convicted of rape were hanged at the Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, 36 kilometers (22 miles) west of Tehran. The Oslo-based group could not identify the identity of the men. It said that in most rape cases, confessions are obtained under torture and defendants do not have access to a lawyer.

Iranian authorities did not confirm the rape-related executions.

In a separate case, three other men were hanged at the Ghezal Hesar prison, also in Karaj, on drug charges. The Mizan Online website, affiliated with the Iranian judiciary, confirmed the executions, saying the convicts were members of Panjak, a large cocaine distribution cartel. Mizan identified one of the convicts as Hossein Panjak, known as the “sultan of cocaine.”

In 2014, Iranian authorities arrested Panjak who was 32 at the time, along with five other members of the cartel, over their alleged involvement in drug smuggling operations over a decade. At the time, authorities confiscated 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine, opium and methamphetamines during the arrest operation.

Rights groups identified the other two men who were executed as Abdolhossein Emami Moghaddam, a father of one from the city of Kuhdasht in the province of Lorestan, and Babak Aghayi, a father of two from Tehran.

In video footage posted on its Twitter account, IHR said families of the convicts had gathered outside the Ghezal Hesar prison pleading with the authorities to stop the executions. Gunfire was audible in the video as security forces fired tear gas and bullets at the crowds and beat the relatives with batons. 

“One of the families was taken to hospital and is in serious condition after being beaten,” IHR quoted an informed source as saying.

Iran on execution spree

At least 582 people were executed in 2022, up from 333 in 2021, a joint report by IRH and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty showed last month.

The United Nations says more than 200 people have been executed this year so far.

“On average so far this year, over 10 people are put to death each week in Iran, making it one the world’s highest executors,” UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk said in a statement on Tuesday.

Iran is the world’s second largest executioner after China, according to Amnesty International. Most of those executed — many belonging to minority groups — are charged with murder or drug-related offenses. Others are convicted of vaguely worded charges, including “spreading corruption on earth” and “enmity against God,” Amnesty said in a March report.

“The world must act now to pressure the Iranian authorities to establish an official moratorium on executions, quash unfair convictions and death sentences, and drop all charges related to the peaceful participation in protests,” said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

The spike in death sentences and executions coincided with a nationwide protest movement against the Iranian regime that erupted last September in response to the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. The protests were met with a violent crackdown, with security forces killing hundreds of protesters while detaining thousands of others. At least 100 people were sentenced to death in relation to the protest, according to a December report by IHR.

Rights groups accuse Iran of using the death sentence as a tool of repression and intimidation against the public.

“Iran’s authorities demonstrated how crucial the death penalty is to instill societal fear in order to hold on to power,” the joint IHR and ECPM report said.

“The Islamic Republic continues to sacrifice human life to instill terror in people’s hearts and crush dissent,” Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, said in a report earlier this week.

Wednesday’s executions come just a few days after authorities hanged two people on charges of blasphemy on Monday. A Swedish-Iranian dual national was also executed over the weekend over his alleged role in planning a 2018 attack against a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahwaz that killed 25 people.

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