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Iran: UN Human Rights chief concerned about recent spate of executions

GENEVA (2 February 2011) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday expressed alarm at the dramatic increase in executions in Iran since the beginning of this year.

According to Iranian press reports, at least 66 people were executed in the month of January, with some sources indicating an even higher figure. The majority of executions were reportedly carried out in relation to drug offences, but at least three political prisoners were among those hanged.

“We have urged Iran, time and again, to halt executions,” Pillay said. “I am very dismayed that instead of heeding our calls, the Iranian authorities appear to have stepped up the use of the death penalty.”

Ms. Pillay expressed particular concern over the three known cases in which political activists were executed. Jafar Kazemi, Mohammad Ali Haj Aqaei and another man whose name was not disclosed, were affiliated with banned political parties. Kazemi and Aqaei were arrested in September 2009 during protests. All three individuals were convicted of mohareb or “enmity against God,” and hanged last month.

“Dissent is not a crime,” she stressed. “Iran is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to free expression and to free association. It is absolutely unacceptable for individuals to be imprisoned for association with opposition groups, let alone be executed for their political views or affiliations.”

The High Commissioner also condemned the two instances in which public executions were held, despite a circular issued in January 2008 by the head of the judiciary that banned public executions. She reiterated the Secretary-General’s view that “executions in public add to the already cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty and can only have a dehumanizing effect on the victim and a brutalizing effect on those who witness the execution.”

“I am also deeply concerned that a large number of people reportedly remain on death row, including more political prisoners, drug offenders and even juvenile offenders,” Pillay added.

“As Iran is no doubt aware, the international community as a whole is moving towards abolition of the death penalty in law or in practice. I call upon Iran to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”

“At a minimum, I call upon them to respect international standards guaranteeing due process and the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty, to progressively restrict its use and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed.”

The Human Rights Committee, which monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has consistently held that imposition of the death penalty amounts to arbitrary deprivation of life in breach of the Covenant, unless certain stringent criteria are met. These include that it can only be imposed for the most serious crimes, it shall not be mandatory, and it may only be imposed after a trial and appeal proceedings that scrupulously respect all the principles of due process. The Committee encourages abolition of capital punishment.

ENDS

For media requests, please contact OHCHR press officer Ravina Shamdasani on rshamdasani@ohchr.org or +41 22 917 9310

Learn more about the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/AboutUs/Pages/HighCommissioner.aspx

OHCHR Country Page – Iran: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/IRIndex.aspx

To read the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, go to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/ccpr.htm