The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expresses alarm at the dramatic increase in executions in Iran since the beginning of this year. Pillay is calling on the Iranian authorities to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Iranian press reports say at least 66 people were executed in the month of January. The spokesman for U.N. human rights chief, Rupert Colville, says other reports give an even higher figure.
He says this is a very large number and well over twice the average rate of last year.
“It looks like the total for the whole of 2010 was somewhere between 220 and 300 people executed last year. So, 66 in one month since the beginning of this year is a really dramatic increase over that pretty high figures for 2010,” Colville said. “And, we are also concerned at the range of crimes people are being executed for.”
The majority of executions reportedly were carried out in relation to drug offenses. But at least three political prisoners were among those hanged.
Colville says two of the men were arrested in September 2009 during protests, following the Iranian presidential elections. Demonstrations broke out against the disputed victory of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The spokesman says all three men were affiliated with banned political parties. He says they were convicted of “enmity against God,” and hanged last month.
“Being member of a political party, protesting, showing dissent is absolutely not a crime that people should be hanged for, if it is a crime at all,” Colville states. “So, this worries us a lot because obviously a lot of people were arrested after the protests two years ago, one year and one half ago…and, it would be absolutely unconscionable if any more of them get executed.”
Colville says the High Commissioner also is concerned about the very large number of people still on death row, including more political prisoners, drug offenders and even juvenile offenders.
Navi Pillay also condemns two instances of public hangings held last month. This, despite a circular issued by the head of Iran’s judiciary three years ago banning public executions.
She says executions in public add to the already cruel, inhuman and degrading nature of the death penalty.