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UN experts call for a moratorium on death penalty in the Islamic Republic of Iran

GENEVA (2 February 2011) – Two UN independent experts warned Tuesday that there has been a dramatic surge in death sentences in the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out in the absence of internationally recognized safeguards, despite numerous calls by the UN to immediately halt executions.

“We call on the Iranian Government to immediately declare a moratorium on the death penalty in view of the gravity of the situation and the regular disregard of due process guarantees,” urged the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul.

“Any death sentence undertaken in contravention of a Government’s international obligations is tantamount to an arbitrary execution,” Mr. Heyns stressed. The UN expert noted that in January alone, at least 66 people have reportedly been put to death -with some sources reporting up to 83 executions-, the majority of whom on charges of drug trafficking, moharebeh (enmity against God) and alleged membership in or contact with a banned opposition group. A large number of the executions of those charged with drug trafficking have reportedly taken place at Vakilabad prison.

“Such a practice is unacceptable,” Mr. Heyns said. “Under international law, the death penalty is regarded as an extreme form of punishment which, if it is used at all, should only be imposed for the most serious crimes, after a fair trial.”

On her part, Ms. Knaul also deplored that “in many cases, people sentenced to death do not have access to legal representation and their families and lawyers are not even informed of the execution.” She pointed out that “the ongoing violations of fair trial guarantees and recurrent application of the death penalty by the judiciary, may be seen as a means to intimidate the population.”

Both UN experts urged the Iranian Government to comply with its international obligations, reiterating the General Assembly resolution 65/226 adopted on 21 December 2010, which called on the Government to abolish executions carried out in the absence of respect for internationally recognized standards.

The Special Rapporteurs reiterated the appeals made to the Iranian authorities by several UN independent experts to allow them to visit the country, and encouraged the Government to respond positively to their request.

Mr. Christof Heyns from South Africa was appointed by the Human Rights Council as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in August 2010. He is Co-director of the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa at the University of Pretoria. Learn more: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/index.htm

Ms. Gabriela Knaul from Brazil took up her functions as Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. She has a long-standing experience as a judge and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems. Log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/judiciary/index.htm

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

For more information and media requests, please contact Pasipau Wadonda-Chirwa (Tel.: + 41 22 917 9252 / email: pwadonda-chirwa@ohchr.org) or write to eje@ohchr.org or SRindependenceJL@ohchr.org).