Punishment by execution in Iran today – Ali Reza Jabari

Democracy-lovers, free-thinkers, and all who have gathered here to show their dedication to the common cause of preserving human rights! Ladies and Gentlemen!                                                           


All of us share in one ideal and that is considering democracy and observing indispensable human rights as the first priority in our social struggle; wishing to realize equal rights for all human beings, regardless of their ideological, racial, lineal, and sexual differences; and knowing that the first and  foremost of these rights, according to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the source and the foundation agreed by all the audience, all national and international human rights organizations, and by many states all over the world, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, is: “Everyone has the right to live, and to be personally free and secure.”

Thus, if any Articles of this universal document have not been included in the legal basis dominating the societies of some countries that claim to have accepted the observance of human rights and that have put their signatures under the UDHR document, IRI (the Islamic Republic of Iran) included; or if such Articles as its Article 3 were not enforced in them, it means that they are violating human rights apparently and intentionally.  

IRI has been performing punishment by execution according to its domestic laws and at times in contravention with them, although performing such verdicts is incompatible with the international documents it has accepted.

In this speech, I will first try to describe the origins of punishment by execution in Iran.  Then, I will describe the situation, presenting case{s} for each of the origins; and lastly, I will propose ways to eliminate crimes that necessitate the death penalty in Iran.




A.1 Political Origin
A. 2 Religious and Religious Precepts Origins
A. 3 Security Origin


A.1 Political Origin of the Death Sentence in Iran Today


States such as the Islamic Republic of Iran that consider the continuance of their existence as their first priority, may resort to any means such as physical elimination of whom they regard as their enemies or who are really their opponents, to meet their goal, for any excuse, including ideological beliefs, economic interests etc.

Political and ideological prisoners, military operations captives, and those who think about overthrowing the existing regime are expected to be executed or physically eliminated by other means.


A.2 Religious and Religious Precepts Origins of the Death Penalty in Iran Today, and the types of execution enforced upon this basis


The Islamic Republic of Iran has been built upon theocracy and the Islamic religious doctrines; in such countries, the law is built on the basis of religious beliefs from which the issuance and the enforcement of the death penalty verdicts may not be excluded.


A.3 Security Origin of Punishment by Execution in Iran Today


At times, the judiciaries of the states may allow the issuance and the enforcement of the death penalty verdicts, because they feel that their security is being put into danger; this may happen without the commitment of a crime by the executed, but only because they have begun to think about it, or they have got the means to commit it. 


As the IRI authorities have been in danger of being assassinated since the time they came to power, and collective murders by bomb blasts in public buildings were frequent, cases of such a type of death sentence are still being enforced in my country.

These three origins do not always work individually in the issuance and the enforcement of the death penalty verdicts; at times two or more of these origins may work together to realize  executions, but always one origin lies at their basis. I will return to the point in my descriptions, below.
B .The Cases of the Different Origins of Death Penalty in Iran Today


B.1 the cases of Execution with Political Origins in IRI


B.1.1 Executions that followed the Islamic revolution in Iran


The first wave of executions came at the dawn of IRI power, in February 1979{Bahman 1357}, when many statesmen and army Generals of the Shah’s regime were sentenced to death by the Order of his successor, Ayatollah Khomeini, as the first IRI leader,  as Khalkhali, the executor, confessed in his diary later. Two other waves also followed it, in which air force and navy officers were sentenced to death, when the events called Novzheh Coup d’etat occurred and a navy officers’ alliance, which was accused of taking part in a conspiracy against IRI, according to the assertions of the authorities, was detected.


These three waves of execution, of course, had political origins, although they were performed under religious disguise, and the executed were called “corruptors on the earth” and “warriors against God”; the names that the IRI statesman gave to any of their serious critics or opponents. The root cause of such executions was the change of political power in Iran and the necessity that the victorious power felt for protecting its new-born power against a long-lived, then defeated, monarchy.   In other words, they were performed to consolidate the IRI foundations after overthrowing its predecessor. The first wave of executions was criticized for its manner of enforcement, in which the trials were held without jury or any kind of investigation, since most people were filled with revolutionary enthusiasm at that critical period.


B.1.2 The Execution of the members of political opponent groups in 1980s {1360s}


The fourth wave of executions came in the year 1981{1360}, when  free-thinking political powers began to consolidate their independent political positions, and announce their own voice in the national and the international arena.  This wave came after the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, concurrent with some movements for autonomy in provinces where the majority of their population were from non-Farsi-speaking ethnicities, such as Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Khuzestan and Turkmen-sahra, and ended after the massacre which occurred in summer 1988{1367} and was named “The National Catastrophe”.  This wave was also originally political, but it was performed with before-mentioned religious excuses. 

At the beginning, 20-30 people a day were sentenced to death and their names were announced in the media; but soon it was known that the people showed negative reaction against these wholesale executions and this persuaded IRI agents to execute its political opponents, but not to announce their names and numbers. This wave was not interrupted during 8 years of destructive war between Iran and Iraq, but had its ups and downs, and reached its apex in summer 1988{1367}.   In this wave of executions, thousands and thousands of Iranians, who did not think as the IRI statesmen did, were either hanged or shot down and were buried without any names and particulars in collective tombs, such as Khavaran.  It is said that one of such tombs also lies near Behesht Sakineh, 4 kilometers after Mehrshahr and before the point from which Karaj-qazvin freeway begins.  The statistical data in two separate lists gathered by a famous left-wing religious group asserts that nearly 14,000 persons were sentenced to death from the beginning of February1979 revolution in Iran; 10,000 up to the beginning of  “The National Catastrophe”, in 1988, and 4,000 thereafter.


In this wave members and partisans of Fadaiian, Rahe Kargar, Mojahedin, Peykar, Kurdistan Democratic Party, Kumeleh, Turkmen People’s Movement, Arab People’s movement in Khuzestan, Islamic People’s Movement in Azerbaijan, Toodeh Parti and many other political organizations were executed. The trend went on, until winter 1983{1361} and then spring 1983{1362}, when the leaders and cadres of the Tudeh Party and then Fadaii{axariyat} were arrested. In 1987{1365} Fadaian{Axariyat} bore a heavy blow after its congress which was held abroad, and leaders and cadres returned to Iran.  The detainees were gradually put to death until summer 1988 {1367}.                                                                            


We may consider the executions which happened in the above- mentioned period as a different enormous wave, because of the following reasons:
     1. This wave appeared after the end of 8-year war between Iran and Iraq, which happened in spring 1988{1367};  and the excuse that the anti-revolutionary “gangs” were weakening the Islamic state in the war which was imposed upon it by the rest of the world was disproved.
     2. In a very short period of time which lasted nearly one month, thousands of political activists were either hanged or shot down in prisons, many of whom had borne or were about to finish their periods of imprisonment before they were executed.  The names and particulars of nearly 4,000* were published by Mujahedin, but the number is said to be far more, because they were buried in collective graves without any tombs or tombstones; and even their places are unknown to anybody except those who buried them. It is said that Kavaran collective graveyard was also unknown until a hand of one of the executed Toodehiis, named Kioumars Zarshenas, which remained out of the ground, was seen by a pilgrim. Some say their number amounted even to 16 thousand, but
no one knows the real number.
     3. The religious color of these executions was much more explicit than the executions which happened beforehand, although they were also of political origin.   Four persons who were charged by Ayatollah Khomeini to organize these executions asked four questions from each of the political prisoners :} Are you a worshipper of God?  Are you a Muslim?   Do you accept the Islamic Republic of Iran? and do you perform prayers?  Negative answers to the first three necessitated the death penalty, and a negative answer to the fourth was followed by lash blows until the accused asserted that he {or she} would perform prayers thereafter.


This wave of executions happened after the issuance of the Security Council’s declaration enforcing ceasefire between Iran and Iraq in June 1988{Khordad 1367}, when the Ayatollah Khomeini said that he had drunk “the Cup of Poison”.   It was concurrent with Mujahedin’s “Eternal Brightness” assault upon the western Iranian frontiers, which was confronted with Iranian armed forces’ “Mersad” counter-assault.


The then deputy-leader of IRI, Ayatollah Hosein ali Montazeri wrote two letters to Ayatollah Khomeini, objecting to his order to execute political prisoners; but not only could he not make any changes in the course of those catastrophic events, but he himself was also disfavored by the leader, and forced to live under restriction in his own house in Qom.


What he wrote to the then leader and to the four persons who were appointed to enforce those executions works well to reveal the nature and the extent of the so-called “National Catastrophe”. He wrote in his first letter to Ayatollah Khomeini, on July 31 1988 {9 Amordad 1367}, “…The execution of the detainees of the recent events” {he meant the “Eternal Brightness” assault and “Mersad” counter- assault} “is being accepted by the nation and the society and will not apparently have any adverse effects; but the execution of those
who have been in prisons beforehand”: 1}  “…in the present situation  will be treated as a sign of our revengefulness…”; 2} “…Will make many families that are typically devoted to the religion and  are revolutionary, uneasy and bereaved so that they will be discouraged”;  3} “many of them are not steadfast in their beliefs, but some extravagant responsible persons treat them as steadfast prisoners”; 4} “In the present situation in which recent prisoners and assaults by Saddam has given us the status of oppressed, and many media and personalities are defending us, it is not expedient to allow adverse propaganda to be started against us”; 5} “the individuals who have been sentenced to convictions less than death by the courts and according to some standards previously, should not be executed without premisses, and without having performed any new activities ; doing this means being indifferent to judicial standards and the judges’ verdicts”; 6} “…Being affected by the atmosphere is too frequent, and many innocent or less guilty individuals may be executed by the orders of Your Excellency”; 7} “we have not obtained any results from assassinations and coercion. At the present time however, we have increased propaganda against us…It is appropriate to increase mercy and kindness for a while”;  8} “If  you are insistent about the enforcement of your orders, at least  tell them to consider the consensus of the judge, the Attorney General and the Intelligence responsible as the decision criterion….The women, particularly the pregnant ones, should also be excluded”; 9} “executing many thousands of individuals during a few days may have adverse results and may not be free from mistakes.”


The state authorities wanted to suppress the adverse socio-economic consequence of the Iran-Iraq war on the people’s life, by showing coercion to the political activists who might unite to overthrow the Regime by the utilization of these consequences, as the statesmen anticipated.

A relative of one of the victims of these events says in his interview with Shahrvand newspaper of Canada:  “My father had some questions that remained in this world, without finding any answer to them before he left it.  He always asked: Do these gentlemen, who ordered and performed executions, believe in their actions or they are ashamed of doing what they did? If they really believe in them, then why are they ashamed of disclosing them, even 20 years after they performed them? Why do they try to prevent everyone from knowing or hearing anything about them?”

After criticizing the restrictions imposed upon the executed individuals’ families for gathering together in their cemetery, by the state authorities and functionaries, this interviewee says: “If you performed properly, be steadfast in it, but if you are ashamed of performing it show that in your behavior.” And, answering a question regarding “to forgive but not to forget”, about the events of the year 1988{1367}, he says: “I believe the youth sacrificed themselves to a better world, free from ugliness and abomination.  Thus, revenge does not serve their ideals.  If we do not think of ourselves but of them, we will have to prefer forgiveness to vengeance.

“But we should not forget that forgiveness needs its premisses. Firstly, the responsible persons should describe how and why they performed that way. Then our dear ones’ testaments should be delivered to us. After that, the place of the tombs should be specified. And lastly, the tombstone for each of the executed should be installed, specified by appropriate writing on it. This is the only way that forgiveness may be accepted. Forgiveness is a two-way trend; and the forgiven should perform a minimum of his {or her} duties” {Siamak Taheri, interview with Khosrow Shemirani, Shahrvand , Canada, September 12 2006.}


B.1.3 Politico-cultural chain murders in Iran


Another wave of executions was a politico-cultural one named Chain Murders, which mostly happened in the second half of 1990s, and its climax came in 1998{1377}. These were unexpected murders, after which the then minister of Intelligence, Ayatollah Dorri Najafabadi, was compelled to resign from his position and to apologize for them. After their detection, these murders were attributed to the defiant individuals in the above-mentioned ministry. Some persons who had effective and significant roles in performing them, including Saeed Imami {Islami}, Mostafa Kazemi{Mousavi}, Alikhani{Hashemi}, who were high-rank officers of the ministry, and some others who commanded their execution or executed them were arrested and tried. Saeed Imami, who played the first person role in these chain murders and who was an ex-vice-president and then General Director of the ministry died in hospital after a doubtful suicide, and his spouse and the other intelligence officers accepted the crimes attributed to them as defiant individuals, in prison. Thus some of the real commanders of these tragic murders were excluded from the cycle of investigation related to these murders. The then published magazine, Iran Farda, was published with the names and particulars of  84 persons murdered in them, Dariush Forouhar, Parvaneh Majd Iskandari{ Forouhar}, political activists and the founders and leaders of  Iran Mellat Parti, Mohammad  Mukhtari and Mohammad Ja’far Pouyandeh , Qaffar Hoseini and Ahmad Amir Alaii, cultural activists and famous members of Iranian Writers Association{kannoon}, Pirouz Davani and Majid Sharif, political activists, Ahmad Tafazzoli, Saeedi Sirjani, Ebrahim Zal zaded, Hamid Haji zadeh, cultural activists and the latter’s young son, Karroon, included.

Such murders were also of political origin and were mostly committed to restrict freedoms of pen and expression of beliefs, as emphasized in Articles 18 and 19 of UDHR. These restrictions were  significant in extinguishing  the above-mentioned freedoms at the first period of Mr Khatami’s presidency, and the continuance of cultural, social and political conflicts between his administration and the other reformists, on the one side, and the Fundamentalist and rightist powers, on the other.  The latter which had tolerated an apparent defeat in its struggle against the Reformists was trying both to eliminate its theoretical and ideological opponents, and show the deficiency of its reformist competitors in performing social and political development and meeting security requirements.

Meanwhile, doubtful letters were written with nicknames such as Mostafa Navvab Safavi, the Honored Host of Mohammad, and  the Host of Islam, in which from 80 up to 2,000 opponents, free-thinkers, or socio-politico-cultural activists were threatened with death, the names of the people who were murdered in this wave  were also included {such letters have at times been published in Iran from then on}.  The last one, containing more than 2,000 names has been published in recent days.


B.2 Cases of the religious and the religious precepts origin of executions in Iran


Besides the catastrophic events of summer 1988{1367}in which the political motives were dominant, but mixed with religious ones and followed under their disguise, there have also been absolutely religious and religious precepts death penalties in IRI, the cases of which I will describe now.


B.2.2 Apostasy


Anybody who is born as a Muslim and agrees to follow any other religious faith afterwards is an apostate and is put to death.


B.2.1 Retaliation


Anyone who commits a murder, except for a “lawful” punishment, will be executed, unless the first order relatives of the murdered person forgive him {or her}.
B.2 Adultery
Any married person, who commits adultery, should be punished by stoning, which mostly leads to death.   Many individuals have been punished this way in Iran today, and 7 women and 2 men are waiting for it just now.


B.2.4 Pederasty
Anybody who commits pederasty should be put into a Gunni {woolen sack} and thrown down a mountain.


B.2.5 Drinking Alcoholic Drinks


Anybody who drinks alcohol and is seen by witnesses three times, should be punished by being put to death. I myself saw such a person waiting for death for many years in Rajaiishahr {called Ajayebshahr} prison for this reason, when I was spending my imprisonment period there.
The last four categories may be called executions of religious precepts origin and treated separately, or brought together under a broader topic as B2, which was defined above.


There were many cases of such death penalty verdicts, which were issued and performed and many others which were issued to be performed according to the religious law, and wait for it. Enforcement of such verdicts may be delayed by some humane judges, but they may not be cancelled, unless by offsetting the existing laws.
B.3 Cases of death penalty of a security origin in Iran Today
There are cases in which the state authorities enforce executions, because they feel that the society or the regime’s security may be in danger, directly or indirectly, after a crime is committed. This category of executions may be enforced before such a crime occurs and brings about its adverse consequences.


B.3.1 Trading Narcotics


Trading narcotics will put the social and medical health of the society in real danger, and this may effect the regime’s survival adversely. So, IRI authorities at times utilize the death penalty to confront it.


B.3.2 Cases like Abducting Aircrafts, Blasting Bombs, etc


Such cases lead to the death penalty, even when no murders occur. 


B.3.3 Threats to the security of IRI itself
Any operation which may put the IRI survival into danger may lead to punishment by execution, regardless of its real results, as the members of some non-military parties, or the non-military members and partisans of the military ones were murdered under the disguise of negating the state-supported religious beliefs in
Massacre 1988 {1367}.  Most of these political non-military groups were not IRI enemies, but independent parties and organizations, having their own beliefs, way of life and development, not the same as IRI.   However, it felt that they might be a potential danger to its security in some way, if they could sustain as viable groups and unite as a powerful political power, to oppose it.


Another Way of Categorizing Death Penalties in Iran Today


We can divide the death penalties in IRI another way, too.

They may be divided in two categories: Firstly, those which a lawful basis, national or international, is at work in issuing their verdicts and enforcing them; and secondly, those which have no such basis behind their practice, and are issued and enforced through somebody’s command, by some “defiant individuals” , as the then Intelligence minister called them, as occurred in the second half of 1990s.  Some are in accord with national laws, but not consistent with international ones — the cases for which religious and religious precepts verdicts are issued for adultery or apostasy; those which are not in accord with any law are the political death sentences of the 1988 massacre and the politico-cultural chain murders of late 1990s.
C. The Way Out
What can the statesmen, human rights organizations and individual activists do in such a complex atmosphere to decrease the rates of death penalties in Iran and eventually to eliminate them?
I think, the way out of it needs,
 – Firstly: To bring the IRI statesmen to the point where they can understand that they make a representative body of the Iranian people, but not an absolute commander reigning over them for ever; and reaching such a situation may help them to live in peace with all parties in the national and international arena and to be in continuous dialog with them, instead of being hostile with one another; and this may not be realized by itself, but the people themselves and the human rights organizations, should devotedly try it;
 – Secondly: The statesmen should try to make the socio-economic situation  better in Iran, instead of increasing intelligence and military funds which are spent to consolidate the army and  buy many kinds of weapons, and maybe mass ones, and to increase the Intelligence men and devices to frighten everybody inside the country and abroad;
 – Thirdly: Everybody should work long and devotedly to promote and spread socio-cultural and human rights activities, and  to enforce what national and international legal documents in the domain of human rights that IRI has accepted by putting its signature under; namely IRI constitutional law and UDHR;
  – And finally: as the religious fundamentalists are in power now, and this may be the case subsequently, I think following such aims in the field of human rights will be more difficult than what we might {or may} do under the reformists’ power, so we should try devotedly and consistently to make the regime accept secular law. 

This will be in accord with today’s life requirements, and will meet and protect human rights as much as possible.

Note: this is a copy of the speech I prepared to deliver in Stockholm seminar on Thursday, 26 October 2006 and in Hanover on Sunday 12N ovember 2006, but I summarized it for the sake of saving time. I thank Mr Mehrdad Darvishpour and Mr Hassan Golzar for their effective comments regarding my speech.

Ali Reza Jabari {Azarang}

2/10/1385{23 December 2006} 

 *the figure of nearly 4,000 dates from 2008 


Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/writersinexile/punishmentbyexecutioninirantoday-alirezajabari/

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