Iran is carrying out state-approved executions at a "horrifying pace" on a mass scale that constitutes an "abhorrent assault" on the right to life, two rights groups said Wednesday (July 27).
In a joint statement, Amnesty International (AI) and the Washington-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre for Human Rights in Iran said 251 hangings have been confirmed this year until the end of June, although the real number may be even higher.
"If executions continue at this horrifying pace, they will soon surpass the total of 314 executions recorded for the whole of 2021," the groups said, denouncing an "execution spree".
They said 146 prisoners executed in 2022 had been convicted of murder, "amid well-documented patterns of executions being systematically carried out following grossly unfair trials".
But at least 86 other people were executed for drug-related offences for which executions had dropped sharply in recent years until 2022, following changes to domestic legislation.
"During the first six months of 2022, the Iranian authorities executed at least one person a day on average. The state machinery is carrying out killings on a mass scale across the country in an abhorrent assault on the right to life," said Diana Eltahawy, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at AI.
The report said officials have regularly carried out mass executions in prisons across Iran, with up to a dozen inmates executed at a time.
The groups confirmed a report by a Norway-based NGO, Iran Human Rights (IHR), that Iran also carried out its first public execution in two years last Saturday.
The statement also said that comments by Iranian officials acknowledging the problem of prison overcrowding had sparked concerns "that the rise in executions is related to official efforts to reduce prisoner numbers".
The rights groups also expressed alarm that more than a quarter of the prisoners executed so far in 2022 were members of Iran's Baluch ethnic minority, who make up just 5% of the country's population.
"The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran's Baluchi minority epitomises the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades," said Roya Boroumand, director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre for Human Rights, in the statement.
The joint statement said the rise in executions has also coincided with the rise of the former judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency and with the appointment of former intelligence minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei to lead the judiciary.
Iran is in the throes of a major crackdown as protests continue over living conditions in a severe economic crisis, say activists.
Suppression, arrests on the rise
A large number of labour activists, teachers, intellectuals and filmmakers have been arrested since January, one of whom is director Mohammad Rasoulof, whose lacerating film "There is No Evil" about the effects of the use of the death penalty in Iran won the Golden Bear at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival.
Rasoulof was arrested on July 9.
With the arrival of warmer weather, the regime has deployed a large number of security forces, mostly women, to crack down on ordinary women who refuse to fully cover themselves.
The forces attempt to arrest those who "are not fully covered according to the law", but many of those women resist arrest.
Clashes between the regime's forces and citizens who refuse to fully obey the dress code are on the rise in the streets and on public transportation.
On June 15, a group of independent United Nations (UN) rights experts expressed alarm over a "violent crackdown" on teachers and wider civil society in Iran, demanding that those responsible be held to account.
The 11 experts, who were appointed by the UN but did not speak on its behalf, include Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.
The experts said more than 80 protesting teachers had been arrested or summoned by the authorities in the Islamic Republic in the past months.
"We are alarmed at the recent escalation of arbitrary arrests of teachers, labour rights defenders and union leaders, lawyers, human rights defenders and other civil society actors," the experts said in a UN statement.
Last Friday, the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reported that at least 45 Iranians have been executed in the 31-day period ending last Friday, and one political prisoner has been sentenced to death.
"Most executions were carried out for charges such as murder, rape, armed robbery and drug-related offences", the report said.
Iran had most known 2021 executions
Arbitrary arrests and executions have drastically increased during Raisi's presidency.
On April 28, BBC quoted IHR and France's Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) as stating that in 2021, at least 333 people were put to death in Iran.
The number of executions for drug-related offences -- 126 -- was five times higher than in 2020, their report said.
In October, a UN human rights expert warned that almost all executions in Iran were "an arbitrary deprivation of life" and urged the country to end the imposition of the death penalty where it violates international law, the BBC reported.
AI said there was a worrying rise in 2021 executions in Iran, as COVID-19 restrictions slackened.
At least 579 executions were known to have occurred in 18 countries in 2021, showing a 20% increase compared to 2020, AI said in a May report.
Iran accounted for the biggest portion of the global increase, the report said, as it put at least 314 people to death, compared with 246 in 2020. However, China is "the world’s leading executioner" and its number of executions is a state secret, added AI.