Iran’s Surge in Executions Fuels Global Increase

iran executions 2023

The number of executions around the world soared last year to its highest since 2015, driven by a sharp rise in the use of the death penalty in Iran. At least 1,153 people were executed by governments in 2023, the highest number in eight years, according to a report released on May 29. Nearly three quarters of all publicly documented executions were enacted by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which executed 853 people this year. 

“The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offenses, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran’s most marginalized and impoverished communities,” Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General said in a press release. 

Iran has ramped up its number of executions, with numbers rising by 48% in 2023, up from 576 executions in 2022 Religious and ethnic minorities were disproportionately subjected to the death penalty, particularly Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority which makes up only 5% of the population but represented 20% of all executions in 2023, Amnesty found. 

The recent surge in executions is thought to be due after mass demonstrations swept the country in 2022, according to Amnesty. Protests initially started as a reaction to the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was killed in police custody after she was arrested for not wearing her hijab in accordance with the standards of the Islamic Republic. They quickly spread across the country, with hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking to the streets and many chanting slogans calling for the fall of the government. 

The Islamic Republic has been executing more and more people to deter political unrest. Within their first three years of taking power after 1979, the regime executed more than 4,000 people. Iran’s former President Ebrahim Raisi, who was recently killed in an unexpected helicopter crash, was one of the key figures responsible for a 1988 massacre in which nearly 5,000 Iranian political prisoners were executed. 

Other countries that carried out significant numbers of executions this year include Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and the United States. Saudi Arabia carried out the second highest number of executions, killing at least 172 people this year, which is approximately 15% of the total number of executions tallied by Amnesty in 2023. Amnesty’s data excludes executions carried out by China, which is believed to execute thousands of people every year but keeps the exact number a state secret.

The United States carried out 24 executions in 2023, up from 18 the previous year. These executions took place in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Alabama, and Florida. 

Internationally, at least 508 executions took place for drug-related offenses in 2023, in violation of international law. Though international law does not bar the death penalty, it prohibits its use in cases of drug related charges, espionage and robbery. At least 545 executions carried out in Iran are believed to be in violation of international law, and more than half were due to drug-related charges, Amnesty said.