PARIS (AFP) - Executions in Iran have more than doubled in the first half of 2022, an NGO said on Friday (July 1), warning that the surge in hangings was aimed at spreading fear at a time of protests.
From Jan 1 to June 30, 251 people were hanged in Iran compared with 117 in the first half of last year, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) said in a report.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had expressed concern last month over the rise in executions, with Iran again executing drug offenders in high numbers and many people from ethnic minorities.
Iran has over the last few months seen nationwide protests over economic grievances such as the rise in the cost of basic staples, including bread.
"There is no doubt that spreading fear to counteract the growing popular anti-regime protests is the main goal of these executions," IHR founder Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told AFP.
"Only stronger international reactions and domestic campaigns against the executions can raise the political cost of these executions for the authorities and stop the increasing trend," he said.
He noted that 137 of the executions had taken place since the new wave of protests started on May 7. Six women were also among those executed, IHR said.
According to IHR, eight prisoners were executed on rape and murder charges at the Rajai Shahr prison outside Teheran on Wednesday alone.
There is also particular concern among activists over the disproportionately high numbers of Iran's non-Persian ethnic minorities - especially Baluch and Kurds - who are being executed.
IHR said that it has in this period counted the executions of 67 prisoners from the Baluch minority, who adhere to the Sunni strain of Islam in mainly Shi'ite Iran and live in the south-east of the country.
Activists had also expressed dismay over the June 20 execution of a Kurdish man named Firuz Musalou, who had been convicted on charges of membership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency in neighbouring Turkey.
His sentence was carried out in secret without his family being informed.
Amnesty International's annual report on the death penalty had said in 2021 the number of executions had risen 28 per cent to 314, the highest since 2017 and reversing declines since then.
It noted that at least 19 per cent of the recorded executions were members of the Baluch ethnic minority, who form just up to five per cent of Iran's population overall.
Executions in Iran had fallen since 2017 when amendments to the country's anti-narcotics law came into effect that reduced the number of convicts sentenced to death on drug-related charges.
"The secretary-general is deeply concerned by the increase of executions, including for drug-related offences," said Ms Nada Al-Nashif, the UN's deputy high commissioner for human rights, as she presented Mr Guterres' report on Iran in June.
"The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to 'most serious crimes' and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards," she added.
IHR said its tally of executions includes only those published in official media or which are confirmed by at least two independent sources, meaning the real number could be higher.