Volker Türk’s allegation that criminal proceedings and the death penalty had been weaponized to stamp out dissent, follows the execution in the last months of four people involved in nationwide protests, that were sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, in September.
“The weaponization of criminal procedures to punish people for exercising their basic rights – such as those participating in or organizing demonstrations – amounts to state sanctioned killing,” Mr. Türk said. “The Government of Iran would better serve its interests and those of its people by listening to their grievances.”
Women’s voices drowned out
In addition, the UN human rights chief urged the Iranian authorities to implement legal and policy reforms “to ensure respect for diversity of opinion, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and the full respect and protection of the rights of women in all areas of life”.
In Geneva, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner explained that the executed protesters had been condemned following “expedited” hearings. These failed to meet fair trial guarantees required by international human rights law that are binding on Iran, she insisted.
“These are executions by the State which the UN is against in all circumstances,” Ms. Shamdasani said.
“Given an almost complete lack of due process, and given the use of torture and ill-treatment, we are saying that these are not only executions, but they are State-sanctioned killings, they are arbitrary deprivations of life by the State.”
Death row travesty
According to OHCHR, violations of due process and fair trial guarantees have included the use of vaguely worded criminal provisions, denial of access to a lawyer of the defendant’s choice and the right to present a defence, forced confessions obtained through torture and ill-treatment, failure to respect the presumption of innocence, and denial of the right to appeal.
In his statement, UN rights chief Türk explained that the recent death sentences were handed down following convictions for “moharebeh” (waging war against God) and “efsad-e fel arz” (corruption on earth).
These charges fall far short of the threshold required by international human rights law before someone can be put to death legally.
OHCHR cited reports that the first of the four executions – of Mohsen Shekari – was carried out on 8 December 2022. Four days later, Majdireza Rahanavard was executed only 23 days after his arrest, on 19 November. On 7 January 2023, Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini were also executed. All died without their families being informed.
“This in itself constitutes a violation of international human rights law,” the UN rights office said, as it noted that at least 17 others have been reportedly sentenced to death, and up to 100 more face charges for capital crimes.
Thousands have been detained since the nationwide protests erupted last September following the death of Ms. Amini, who was arrested by Iran’s so-called morality police for improperly wearing her hijab. Hundreds have died in the government crackdown against the demonstrators, OHCHR said.