U.S. Report: Rising Executions & Detentions in Iran

Iran increasingly used executions and detentions to suppress dissent in 2023, according to the State Department. Many people were reportedly executed for homicide or drug crimes, but others were killed for criticizing the government. The death penalty was “often applied after sham trials against defendants who lacked legal counsel,” Ambassador Robert Gilchrist, the Senior Official in the Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor, said on April 22, 2024. While imprisoned, many inmates were allegedly subjected to torture and inhumane living conditions.


Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), said that Iran’s current trajectory was deeply alarming. “The state’s tactics—executions, arbitrary arrests, and violence—expose its fear of a populace increasingly disillusioned with its oppressive rule. This is not just a human rights crisis; it's a reflection of a regime clinging to power through extreme repression and violence,” he told The Iran Primer. CHRI was one of the organizations cited in the annual State Department report on human rights. The following are excerpts from the report



There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including extrajudicial killings, during the year. These included executions for crimes not meeting the international legal standard of “most serious crimes” or for crimes committed by juvenile offenders, as well as executions after trials without due process. Media and human rights groups documented allegations of deaths in custody due to actions by security forces.

In July, the Kurdistan Human Rights Network reported that detained Kurdish-Iranian citizens Mousa Esmaeili and Peyman Galvani were tortured to death at a Ministry of Intelligence detention center in Orumiyeh. Esmaeili had been reportedly accused of membership in a Kurdish opposition party, and Galvani was arrested without explanation.

Although many individuals were executed during the year reportedly for homicide, the law also provided for the death penalty in cases of conviction for attempts against the security of the state, outrage against high-ranking officials, moharebeh (which had a variety of broad interpretations, including waging war against God), fisad fil-arz (corruption on earth, including apostasy or heresy, rape, adultery, recidivist alcohol use, consensual same-sex sexual conduct, working to undermine the Islamic establishment, cooperating with foreign agents or entities, and insults against the memory of Imam Khomeini and against the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Prosecutors frequently charged political dissidents and journalists with the capital offense of waging war against God and accused them of struggling against the precepts of Islam and struggling against the state that upholds those precepts.

As documented by international human rights observers, so-called revolutionary courts continued to issue the majority of death sentences and failed to grant defendants due process. The courts regularly denied defendants legal representation and, in many cases, solely considered as evidence confessions often extracted through coercion or torture. Judges could impose the death penalty on appeal, which deterred appeals in criminal cases. The judiciary was required to review and validate death sentences and overturned some death sentences during the year.

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Activists (HRA), authorities executed 37 percent more persons during the year than in 2022. HRA reported that known executions included at least two juvenile offenders and 25 women. NGOs noted the real number of persons executed was likely much higher than what had been publicly acknowledged. Even for executions it made public, the government often did not release information such as names, dates, or crimes for which individuals were executed.

Three protesters – Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi, and Saeed Yaghoubi – were executed on May 19 after being convicted of killing three members of the security forces in Isfahan in November 2022. Human rights organizations raised concerns regarding serious procedural flaws in their trials, lack of evidence, and forced confessions reportedly extracted under torture; Amnesty International called their trials “grossly unfair.”

Members of marginalized ethnic communities, in particular the Baloch minority, were overrepresented among those executed. According to the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, minorities made up 28 percent of the total executions during the year, with 172 of those executed – 21 percent of the total – from the Baloch ethnic group, which constituted only 5 percent of the population.

Islamic law as applied by the country’s judicial system allowed for the execution of juvenile offenders, starting at the legal age of “maturity” (age nine for girls and 13 for boys). HRA reported that two individuals were executed during the year for alleged offenses committed when they were younger than 18. Majid Tafreshi, a senior official and member of the state-run High Council for Human Rights, disputed criticism of the execution of juvenile offenders in a 2021 interview with Agence France-Presse but acknowledged the government executed juvenile offenders “three to four times” a year and asserted those executed were age 17 and who the courts had determined to have reached “maturity.”

Capital punishment also could be imposed for possession, sale, or transport of more than approximately 110 pounds of unprocessed drugs, such as opium, or approximately 4.4 to 6.6 pounds of manufactured narcotics, such as heroin or cocaine. It also could be applied to some drug offenses involving smaller quantities of narcotics if the crime was carried out using weapons, employing minors, or involving someone in a leadership role in a drug trafficking ring or someone previously convicted of drug crimes and sentenced to more than 15 years’ imprisonment. The Abdorrahman Boroumand Center reported that 57 percent of executions during the year were for drug-related offenses.

According to human rights organizations and media reports, the government continued to carry out some executions by cruel and inhuman practices, including hanging by cranes, in which prisoners were lifted from the ground by their necks and died slowly by asphyxiation. Adultery remained punishable by stoning to death, although the head of the judiciary instructed judges to impose a moratorium on stoning in 2002, and no stoning sentences had been carried out since 2010.


There were reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Plainclothes officials seized lawyers, journalists, and activists without warning, and government officials refused to acknowledge custody or provide information on them. In most cases, the government made no efforts to prevent, investigate, or punish such acts.

Four members of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Pezhman Fatehi, Mohsen Mazloum, Mohammad Faramarzi and Vafa Azarbar, had been detained since July 2022 and, as of year’s end, their whereabouts remained unknown despite the government broadcasting that apparently forced confessions from the detainees on state television.

Political activist Ebrahim Babaei remained forcibly disappeared since 2021. According to media reports and NGOs, multiple persons disappeared during the protests in the fall of 2022 following the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini in “morality police” custody. According to the NGO United for Iran, Iman Valadbeigi and Reza Abbasi disappeared during the protests, and their whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.


Although the constitution prohibited all forms of torture “for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information,” use of physical and mental torture to coerce confessions was prevalent, especially during pretrial detention, including in cases of detained protesters, and there were reports that security forces and prison personnel tortured and abused detainees and prisoners throughout the year. NGOs and international media reported numerous instances of security forces and prison personnel torturing, beating, or raping individuals in detention throughout the year.

Commonly reported methods of torture and abuse in prisons included threats of execution, rape, and sexual assault; threats of rape of prisoners or their family members; forced vaginal and anal examinations; sleep deprivation; waterboarding; suspension; forced ingestion of chemical substances; deliberate deprivation of medical care; electroshock, including the shocking of genitals; burnings; the use of pressure positions; and severe and repeated beatings.

Courts imposed corporal punishments, including flogging. Blinding, stoning, and amputation were legal means of punishment, but there were no known instances carried out during the year. At least 148 crimes were punishable by flogging, while 20 could carry the penalty of amputation.

Human rights organizations frequently cited several prison facilities for their use of cruel and prolonged torture of political opponents, including Evin Prison in Tehran, Rajai Shahr Prison in Karaj, Greater Tehran Penitentiary, Qarchak Prison, Adel Abad Prison, Vakilabad Prison, Zahedan Prison, Isfahan Central Prison (Dastgerd), and Orumiyeh Prison; Wards 209 and Two of Evin Prison, reportedly controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), were particularly cited. Authorities also allegedly maintained informal secret prisons and detention centers outside the national prison system, where abuse reportedly occurred.

According to the NGO Hengaw and multiple media outlets, dissident rapper Saman Yasin was subjected to severe mental and physical torture during his detention, including a mock execution. Yasin reportedly was suspended from a rope attached to the ceiling for three days, forcefully injected with an unknown substance, and subjected to electroshocks until he lost consciousness. He was sentenced to death on charges of waging war against God. At year’s end, he was still being held in Ghezel Hesar Prison in Karaj, Alborz Province, in a state of legal uncertainty and without access to medical services.

Human rights groups accused regular and paramilitary security forces such as the Basij of committing numerous human rights abuses, including torture, forced disappearances, and acts of violence against protesters and bystanders at public demonstrations. The government generally viewed protesters, critical journalists, and human rights activists as engaged in efforts to undermine the 1979 revolution and consequently rarely punished security forces for abuses against those persons, even when the abuses violated domestic law.

Impunity remained a widespread problem throughout all security forces. The attorney general was responsible for investigating and punishing security force abuses, but investigations often lacked transparency, and there were few reports of government actions to discipline abusers.

According to IranWire and human rights NGOs, guards beat political and nonpolitical prisoners during raids on wards, performed nude body searches in front of other prisoners, and threatened prisoners’ families. Media and NGOs reported deaths in custody and prisoner-on-prisoner violence, which authorities sometimes failed to control. Prisoners often announced hunger strikes in protest of their treatment. Following their hunger strikes, Jafar Panahi, Farhad Meysami, Armita Abbasi, Benjamin Briere, Siamak Namazi, and Bernard Phelan were released from prison. Others who went on hunger strikes, including Golrokh Iraee, Bahareh Hedayat, Narges Mohammadi, and Mohammad Najafi, remained in prison.

There were also reports of attempted prisoner suicides throughout the year in response to prison conditions or mistreatment. According to the Kurdistan Human Rights Network and Reuters, on September 16, as part of a raid on Qarchak Women’s Prison, special forces beat and fired pellet bullets at inmates who had reportedly burned their clothing to protest on the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Zhina Amini in police custody.

According to reports from human rights NGOs, prison authorities regularly denied prisoners access to visitors, telephone calls, and other correspondence privileges. Families of executed prisoners did not always receive notification of scheduled executions, or if they did, it was often very short notice. Authorities frequently denied families the ability to perform funeral rites or to have an impartial and timely autopsy performed.

Prisoners practicing a religion other than Twelver Shia Islam reported experiencing discrimination.

Administration: In most cases, authorities did not initiate credible investigations into allegations of inhuman conditions or suspicious deaths in custody. Prisoners were able to submit complaints to judicial authorities but often faced censorship or retribution if they did so, including beatings, torture, and denial of medical care and medication or furlough requests, as well as charges for additional alleged crimes. Prisoners and their advocates often wrote open letters to highlight and protest their treatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions.


Although the constitution prohibited arbitrary arrest and detention, the government generally did not observe these requirements. Detainees could appeal their sentences in court but were not entitled to compensation for detention.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law required a warrant or subpoena for an arrest and stated that arrested persons should be informed of the charges against them within 24 hours. Authorities, however, frequently held some detainees, at times incommunicado, for prolonged periods without charge or trial and frequently denied them contact with family or timely access to legal representation.

The law obligated the government to provide indigent defendants with attorneys for certain types of crimes. The courts routinely set prohibitively high bail, even for lesser crimes, and in many cases, courts did not set bail. Authorities often compelled detainees and their families to submit property deeds to post bail, effectively silencing them due to fear of losing their family property.

The government continued to use house arrest without due process to restrict movement and communication. At year’s end, former presidential candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, as well as Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, remained without formal charges under house arrest imposed in 2011. Security forces continued to restrict their access to visitors and information. In September, 570 political and cultural activists issued a statement decrying the deteriorating health conditions of Mousavi, Rahnavard, and Karroubi in connection with their house arrests and poor medical treatment provided by authorities.

Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities commonly used arbitrary arrests to impede alleged antiregime activities. Plainclothes officers arrived unannounced at homes or offices, conducted raids, arrested persons, and confiscated private documents, passports, computers, electronic media, and other personal items without warrants or assurances of due process.

Individuals often remained in detention facilities for long periods without charges or trials, and authorities sometimes prevented them from informing others of their whereabouts for several days or longer. Authorities often denied detainees access to legal counsel during this period.

International media and human rights organizations documented dual nationals enduring arbitrary and prolonged detention on politically motivated charges. Dual nationals, like other citizens, faced a variety of violations of fair trial guarantees and other human rights violations or abuses, including those involving lack of prompt access to a lawyer of their choosing, summary trials during which they were not allowed to defend themselves, and denial of timely medical treatment.

Authorities released French prisoners Fariba Adelkhah, Bernard Phelan, and Benjamin Briere during the year. Adelhah had been serving a five-year sentence on national security charges after being initially detained in 2019. Briere was arrested in 2020 and sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for espionage. Phelan had been detained on espionage charges in October 2022. At year’s end, at least four French nationals remained in prison.

On May 26, Iran released Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele from prison in exchange for the release of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi from prison in Belgium. Assadi was an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism by a Belgian court in 2021. Vandecasteele was arrested in Iran in February 2022 and sentenced to 40 years in prison on espionage charges.

In September, authorities released U.S.-Iranian dual nationals Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and two individuals whose names were not publicly disclosed in exchange for the release of five Iranian prisoners held in the United States and the release of $6 billion in Iranian funds which had been held in South Korea.

Namazi had been imprisoned since 2015 on spurious charges of espionage following a lower court trial with numerous procedural irregularities, according to international media and NGO reports.

U.S.-Iranian dual nationals Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi had been imprisoned following convictions on charges that international human rights organization stated were lacking evidence and were tried without fair trial guarantees. Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for assembly and collusion against national security and espionage. Shargi was first arrested and imprisoned in 2018 and subsequently rearrested in 2020, having been convicted in absentia on charges his family said were unclear.

Pretrial Detention: Pretrial detention was often arbitrarily lengthy, particularly in cases involving alleged violations of the “national security” law. Authorities sometimes held prisoners incommunicado for lengthy periods before permitting them to contact family members. Instances of unjust and arbitrary pretrial detention were commonplace and well documented throughout the year. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a judge could prolong detention at his discretion, and pretrial detentions often lasted for months. Often authorities held pretrial detainees in custody with the general prison population.


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