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CHRI: Amid Surging Executions, Civil Society Registers Unprecedented Plea to Abolish Death Penalty

The surge in executions in Iran has triggered a passionate call from Iranian civil society, amplified by a mass hunger strike initiated by women prisoners of conscience in Iran, to abolish the death penalty.

This powerful appeal, led by women, including the imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi, has gained momentum following the executions of political prisoners Mohammad Ghobadlou and Farhad Salimi this week.

“Despite the risk of intensified persecution by the government, Iranian civil society is boldly and unequivocally demanding the abolition of the death penalty,” stated Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“Executions, a longstanding and favored tool of the Islamic Republic to suppress dissent, have surged since nationwide anti-state protests erupted in September 2022,” he emphasized. “Yet these state-sanctioned killings are proving ineffective at muzzling calls for justice, and despite the risks, we witness a mounting outcry from within Iran for an end to these hangings.”

Ghaemi and fellow CHRI colleague Jasmin Ramsey launched their own hunger strikes in solidarity with women prisoners of conscience today.

Ghaemi added: “If you are reading this, we implore you to grab a pen and paper and make a sign that says ‘Stop Executions in Iran’ and post it on social media. Share the stories of executed prisoners widely with friends, colleagues, and family. Call on your elected leaders to take tangible steps to pressure the Iranian government to stop murdering its people.”

Mass Hunger Strike by Women Prisoners of Conscience

More than 61 prisoners of conscience in Tehran’s Evin Prison today went on hunger strike demanding an end to the death penalty.

“The incarcerated women stand resolute, determined to etch the names of the executed into our collective consciousness,” said a joint statement by the women prisoners posted on the Instagram account of imprisoned Nobel Peace Laureate Narges Mohammadi.

“They strive not only to preserve the memory of those lost but also to spare the countless lives hanging in the balance within the prisons of the Islamic Republic,” it said.

They have since been joined by 37 former women prisoners in Iran, many of them former prisoners of conscience (full list of names listed at the end of this article).

Inside Iran others have joined the hunger strike, including detained dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi; imprisoned dissident rapper Karim Mohammadi; Narges Mohammadi’s 90-year-old father; the brother and parents of Sepideh Qolian, an imprisoned human rights activist; Joanna Taimasi, the wife of death-row political prisoner Mohsen Masloum; Maria Mahmoudi, wife of death-row Kurdish political prisoner Mohammad Faramarzi; Zeinab Jalalian, a woman political prisoner sentenced to life in prison; and Anvar Khezri, Khosrow Besharat and Kamran Sheikheh, three political prisoners on death row in Qezel Hesar Prison in the city of Karaj, and musician Mehdi Yarrahi.

Calls from within Iran for an end to the death penalty do not end there. Following are statements by civil society groups released in the past two weeks:

“As evident in our revolutionary slogan ‘Woman, Life, Freedom,’ we consider ‘life’ to mean ‘the right to life’ and the right to prosperity, security, peace and happiness of each and every human being. These are basic and fundamental values and we will fight for them.” – 17 university student organizations, January 19, 2024

“As an independent voice of the Iranian people’s quest for justice, we Mothers of Laleh Park strongly condemn the death sentences issued for these prisoners [accused of spying for Israel] and other political and common prisoners, and we demand the immediate cancellation of all death sentences. We urge the freedom- and justice-loving people of Iran, and around the world, not to remain silent in the face of this tyranny and injustice. We must protest louder and louder every day because only we, the people, can stop the brutality of this corrupt and cruel regime.” – Mothers of Laleh Park (group of mothers of victims of state violence), January 18, 2024

“Repeal the death penalty! For how long should the people of this land continue the bitter existence of waiting for the next execution? For how long do chants of ‘Stop Executions!’ have to echo in our society? For how long do we have to hear children crying in despair: ‘Don’t execute my father… Don’t execute my mother…’? Or hear fathers and mothers: ‘Don’t execute my son… My daughter. .. My wife… My sister… My brother…’? How many more thousands have to be suspended from the gallows?” – Iranian Writers Association, January 13, 2024

Calls for UN Official to Cancel Trip to Iran Unless Conditions are Met

Meanwhile, several Iranian human rights activists including Hamed Esmaeilion, whose daughter and wife were killed when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps downed a passenger plane in Iranian airspace in January 2020, have called on UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif to cancel a rumored trip to Iran unless she agrees to meet with the families of political prisoners who are on death row.

“Families whose children are on the verge of execution, loudly demand to meet with the UN official in order to expose the criminals!” tweeted human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan, who for decades defended prisoners of conscience in Iran.

“If you travel at this time, the Islamic Republic will turn it into propaganda. Therefore, as a long-time defender of human rights, I recommend that you refrain from traveling to Iran in protest widespread extrajudicial executions,” said Iranian Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi in an open letter to Al-Nashif.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Calls for End to Death Penalty in Iran

More than 834 people were hanged in the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2023 after sham trials where defendants were denied internationally recognized standards of due process and fair trial rights, including the right to a full defense.

In the first month of 2024, at least 54 people have reportedly been put to death in the country, drawing strong condemnation from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

“I urge the government of Iran to enact an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with a view to abolishing the practice altogether,” he said in a statement on January 25, 2024.

He added: “There is growing consensus for universal abolition of capital punishment. Close to three quarters of the countries in the world have already abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice. I implore the Iranian authorities to follow suit.”

Iran Is Leader in Unlawful Executions

The Islamic Republic is not only the leading per capita executioner in the world, its executions are blatantly unlawful, marked by: use in cases where there has been flagrant denials of due process and convictions based on confessions extracted under torture; executions for crimes that do not meet the international standards of only the most serious crimes; the intensifying use of the death penalty against political opponents; and its disproportionate use against minorities.

CHRI urges global leaders to intensify pressure on the Islamic Republic and demand an immediate halt to escalating executions, including of political prisoners and minors.

Governments dedicated to upholding the right to life and fundamental human rights are urgently called upon to:

  1. Summon Iranian ambassadors, delivering an unequivocal condemnation of these executions and issuing a stark warning of severe diplomatic and economic isolation should the unlawful killings persist.

  2. Release bold and public statements, both unilaterally and in international forums, including press conferences and upcoming meetings of the OECD and UN General Assembly, forcefully denouncing these executions and demanding an immediate end to this egregious violation of human rights.

  3. Actively collaborate with allies, partners, and other governments, advocating for joint initiatives that impose robust diplomatic and economic consequences for the perpetration of these unjust executions.

List of Former Women Prisoners in Iran on Hunger Strike

1- Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

2- Rezvaneh Mohammadi

3- Alieh Motalebzadeh

4- Leila Hosseinzadeh

5- Mojgan Inanlou

6- Hasti Amiri

7- Jila Makvandi

8- Shiva Nazarahari

9- Parisa Rafiei

10- Nazi Oskouei

11- Akram Nasirian

12- Saba Sherdoust

13- Pouran Nazemi

14- Yasaman Ariyani

15- Monireh Arabshahi

16- Narges Zarifian

17- Atefeh Chaharmahali

18- Asrin Darkaleh

19- Samaneh Qasemi-Zahed

20- Aras Amiri

21- Shahla Rahmati

22- Mahsa Amrabadi

23- Gelareh Abbasi

24- Raha Askarizadeh

25- Bahareh Soleimani

26- Zahra Sadeghi

27- Negin Aramesh

28- Raheleh Ahmadi

29- Mahnaz Mortezaei

30- Sousan Tabyanian

31- Maryam Mohammadi

32- Haleh Gholami

33- Sahba Rezvani

34- Jila Shahriari

35- Sholeh Atef

36- Shokoufeh Yadollahi

37- Atena Daemi


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