Violence, conflict and unrest robs nearly 580 children of their lives in the Middle East and North Africa since start of year
AMMAN, 18 November 2022 –UNICEF – November 20th marks World Children’s Day, the annual commemoration of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which provides a universal set of standards to be adhered to by all countries – including the principle of non-discrimination; the best interests of the child as a primary consideration in all actions concerning children; the child’s right to express his or her views freely; and, critically, the child’s inherent right to life.
As this date approaches, children across the Middle East and North Africa Region are facing yet another rise in violence. Since the beginning of this year, nearly 580 children have been killed in conflict or violence across several countries in the region – an average of more than 10 children every week. Many more have been injured. This is an unacceptable reality.
Children in the region continue to suffer the devastating impact of protracted conflicts, communal violence, explosive ordnance and remnants of war, and political and social unrest that permeate several countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Just this week, two young girls were found brutally murdered in Al-Hol camp in northern Syria – just the latest act of horrific violence in the camp. In Yemen, whilst an UN-supported truce led to a significant reduction in the intensity of the conflict and the number of victims, the truce expired in October and children continue to come under attack. In Sudan, conflict in Blue Nile and West Kordofan States has once again left children vulnerable and exposed to violence.
In Iran, UNICEF remains deeply concerned by reports of children being killed, injured, and detained. Despite a lack of official data, since late September an estimated 50 children have reportedly lost their lives in the public unrest in Iran. The latest of such horrible losses was 10-year-old Kiyan who was shot dead while in the car with his family. This is terrifying and must stop.
Earlier this week, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl was killed near Ramallah, bringing the number of children killed in the State of Palestine to 49 since the start of the year. In Libya, violence in Tripoli earlier in the year killed at least 3 children. Meanwhile in Iraq, the explosive ordnance from previous conflicts continue to put the lives of children at risk, killing and injuring 65 children this year.
UNICEF is alarmed that children continue to pay a heavy price for violence and conflict. States party to the Convention of the Rights of the Child have the obligation to protect children in situations of conflict and violence and to guarantee their right to life and to freedom of expression.
The right of children to be protected from violence should be upheld at all times and by all parties to conflicts. Violence is never a solution, and violence against children is never defensible.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Over the past 33 years, 196 countries have become State Parties to the Convention.
World Children’s Day is UNICEF’s global day of action for children, by children. Celebrated every year on the 20th November to coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the day aims to raise awareness and funds for the millions of children that are denied their rights, and to elevate young people’s voices as critical to any discussions about their future.
Iran’s nationwide uprising is marking its 63rd day on Thursday as people from all walks of life are continuing their protests through strikes, rallies and gatherings, and attacks against the mullahs’ regime in its entirety.
Protests in Iran have to this day expanded to at least 227 cities. Over 560 people have been killed and more than 30,000 are arrested by the regime’s forces, according to sources of Iranian opposition People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). The names of 427 killed protesters have been published by the PMOI/MEK. Reports indicate the regime’s security forces killed at least ten protesters on Tuesday, November 15.
As the regime’s security force apparatus is escalating its deadly crackdown against the Iranian people, protesters are taking their measures to the next level by continuously targeting offices of local representatives of regime Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, sites of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and the paramilitary Basij, attacking security units and forcing them to flee while torching their vehicles and motorcycles. Security buildings in many cities across the country, especially in Kurdish regions, have fallen into the locals’ hands.
Initial reports on Thursday indicate merchants continuing their strikes for a third consecutive day in Tehran and at least 15 other cities. The famous bazaars of Tehran, Isfahan, and Tabriz are all on strike. Other cities where strikes have been reported include Ilam, Rask, Surak, Qazvin, Bandar Abbas, Gorgan, Kamyaran, Marivan, Javanrud, Ravansar, and Khorramabad.
Amnesty international: protesters and bystanders in Zahedan, Sistan & Baluchistan province. Those killed include 3 children. “Bloody Friday”, 30 September, marked the deadliest day on record since protests began 3 weeks ago https://amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/10/iran-at-least-82-baluchi-protesters-and-bystanders-killed-in-bloody-crackdown/…
New York Times: Unrest has spread to dozens of cities, with at least seven people killed, according to witnesses, rights groups and video posted on social media.
Antigovernment demonstrations in Iran are spreading after Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the morality police. Videos shared on social media show Iranians protesting in the face of crackdowns
By Cora Engelbrecht and Farnaz Fassihi
Published Sept. 21, 2022Updated Sept. 22, 2022
Antigovernment protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody are intensifying, and dozens of cities are embroiled in unrest that has been met with a crackdown by the authorities, according to witnesses, videos posted on social media and human rights groups.
The protests appear to be one of the largest displays of defiance of the Islamic Republic’s rule in years and come as President Ebrahim Raisi is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. They erupted last weekend after the woman, Mahsa Amini, died following her arrest by Tehran’s morality police on an accusation of violating the law on head scarves.
At least seven protesters had been killed as of Wednesday, according to human rights groups. Protesters have been calling for an end to the Islamic Republic, chanting things like “Mullahs get lost,” “We don’t want an Islamic republic,” and “Death to the supreme leader.” Women have also burned hijabs in protest against the law, which requires all women above the age of puberty to wear a head covering and loose clothing.
A picture of Mahsa Amini provided to Iran Wire by her family. The authorities have said she died of heart failure; her family say she had been in good health.Credit…Iran Wire
Mr. Raisi’s government has unleashed a massive deployment of security forces, including riot police officers and the plainclothes Basij militia, to crack down on the protesters. Internet and cell service has been disrupted in neighborhoods where there were protests. Access to Instagram, which has been widely used by the protesters, was also restricted on Wednesday.
“For security reasons, the relevant authorities may impose certain restrictions on internet speed,” Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, Issa Zarepour, said in a statement.
The videos posted online and the scale of the response from the authorities are difficult to independently verify, but video and photographs sent by witnesses known to The New York Times were broadly in line with the images being posted widely online, showing protesters, many of them women, facing off against the police, and fires on the streets of Tehran.
The police shoved protesters to the ground, beating them with batons and firing shots and tear gas in their direction, according to witnesses and some of those videos.
Ms. Amini’s death has garnered international attention and turned her into a symbol of Iran’s restrictive and violent treatment of women and its repressive policing of the opposition.
The Iranian authorities say that Ms. Amini died from a heart attack, and have denied accusations that she suffered blows to the head while being taken to a detention facility. Her family, which has not responded to requests for comment from The New York Times, has told news outlets that she was healthy at the time of the arrest.
The protests that have swept the country are one of the most daring displays of defiance of the government’s religious and social restrictions in years, according to analysts and rights experts.
“The anger on the streets is palpable,” said Jasmin Ramsey, deputy director at the Center for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based nonprofit organization, adding that the protests were a “culmination of the past five years where all facets of society — laborers, teachers, retirees, university students and average people everywhere — have been trying to call for an end to the crisis of impunity in Iran despite violent state repression.”
The demonstrations have largely been spontaneous and leaderless, she said, and had probably been inflamed by the photos and videos circulating across social media showing extraordinary scenes across the country, including women risking arrest by symbolically removing and burning their hijabs in public. Many have rallied on social media with hashtags in Persian referring to the death of Ms. Amini.
A police motorcycle burned during a protest in Tehran on Monday, in a photo from the state media.
A police motorcycle burned during a protest in Tehran on Monday, in a photo from the state media.Credit…West Asia News Agency, via Reuters
In the city of Kerman, in the southeast, one video showed a woman cutting her hair while sitting on a utility box in front of a roaring crowd. In the south, in the city of Shiraz, another showed an older woman shouting at a security officer, “If you think you are a man, come and kill me.” And one showed university students gathering on campuses in Tehran chanting “Killings after killings, to hell with morality police!”
“These are all acts that are punishable by law,” Ms. Ramsey said in a phone interview, referring to the videos. “They’re showing a serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in their chants and the amount of people that are in the streets,” she added.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Tehran late Tuesday, setting fire to tires, and shouting “Death to the dictator,” and “Life, liberty and women,” according to a witness.
Tehran’s governor, Mohsen Mansouri, said on Wednesday that foreign agents had hijacked the demonstrations and were fueling violence in the streets.
Witnesses said it was clear that the protests were getting broad support from people with a long litany of grievances after struggling under oppressive rules and economic hardship.
Some Iranian protesters lashed back at security forces, chasing them down the street with rocks. In Isfahan and Tehran, protesters set fire to police cars and motorcycles and in Kerman they encircled a police officer and beat and kicked him to the ground, videos showed.
At least seven people have been killed in cities in Kurdistan, Ms. Amini’s home province in the northwest of the country, according to Hengaw, a human rights group, which posted names and photos of victims online.
They were killed by “direct fire by Iranian security forces,” the group said in a statement posted to its website. At least 450 people had been injured and at least 500 were arrested in protests in cities across the Kurdish province, the group said.
The Iranian media reported that Mr. Raisi, who was scheduled to speak at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, told Ms. Amini’s family on Sunday that he had ordered an investigation into her death.
“Your daughter is like my own daughter, and I feel that this incident happened to one of my loved ones,” he said.
The protests were not addressed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who gave a speech at an event on Wednesday commemorating veterans of the Iran-Iraq war. In an effort to curb the backlash, a representative of the supreme leader visited Ms. Amini’s family home, according to the state media.
“All institutions will take action to defend the rights that were violated,” the adviser, Abdolreza Pourzahabi, said in the state media. “As I promised to the family of Ms. Amini, I will also follow up the issue of her death until the final result.”
Iranian law requires all women above the age of puberty to wear a head covering and loose clothing.Credit…Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
On Tuesday, the United Nations acting high commissioner for human rights, Nada Al-Nashif, condemned the “violent response” of the security forces to the protests and called for an independent investigation.
“The authorities must stop targeting, harassing, and detaining women who do not abide by the hijab rules,” Ms. Al-Nashif said in a statement.
President Emmanuel Macron of France, who met Mr. Raisi on Tuesday, told BBC’s Persian news service that the “the credibility of Iran is now at stake regarding the fact that they have to address this issue.”
The unrest comes at a challenging moment for Ayatollah Khamenei, who recently canceled all meetings and public appearances because of illness, according to four people familiar with his health condition.
Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Middle East program at Chatham House, a British research institute, said there was little hope that the protests would bring real change on such a foundational issue as long as the supreme leader, who is 83, was still alive.
“At the end of his life, he’s looking to preserve his legacy and keep the system intact,” she said. “His worldview, shared by those around him, is predicated on the idea that compromise opens the door to further compromise and demonstrates weakness rather than strength.”
Ms. Vakil said to expect a “coordinated coercive response” from the authorities in the coming days or weeks, one likely to include a further internet slowdown, violence, and more detentions of protesters.
“They might close the doors, but people will again, find a way to push open windows,” Ms. Vakil said. “And that’s what we keep seeing these continued patterns of protests — because they’re not able to, or not willing to, address popular anger and economic frustration.”
Iran: Deadly crackdown on protests against Mahsa Amini’s death in custody needs urgent global action
Amnesty International: World leaders at the UN General Assembly must support calls for the establishment of an independent international investigative and accountability mechanism to address the prevailing crisis of impunity in Iran. Their urgent need for action was demonstrated most recently by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, and the barrage of gunfire unleashed on protesters which has left at least eight people dead and hundreds injured, Amnesty International said today.
Iranian security forces are violently quashing largely peaceful protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death on 16 September, days after her violent arrest by the “morality police” for not complying with discriminatory compulsory veiling laws. Amnesty International collected evidence on the security forces’ unlawful use of birdshot and other metal pellets, teargas, water cannon, and beatings with batons to disperse protesters.
“The global outpouring of rage and empathy over Mahsa Amini’s death must be followed by concrete steps by the international community to tackle the crisis of systemic impunity that has allowed widespread torture, extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings by Iranian authorities to continue unabated both behind prison walls and during protests,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The Iranian authorities’ latest brutal crackdown on protests coincides with Ebrahim Raisi’s speech at the UN. He has been given a platform on the world stage, despite credible evidence of his involvement in crimes against humanity, in a stark reminder of the devastating impact of the repeated failure of UN member states to tackle impunity for grave crimes in Iran.”
Amnesty International has recorded the deaths of six men, one woman and one child during protests on 19 and 20 September in the provinces of Kurdistan (4), Kermanshah (2) and West Azerbaijan (2). Of these, at least four died from injuries sustained from security forces firing metal pellets at close range.
At least two other people have lost sight in one or both eyes. Hundreds more, including children, have sustained painful injuries amounting to torture or other ill-treatment due to the unlawful use of birdshot and other munitions against them.
Iran’s security forces will continue to feel emboldened to kill or injure protesters and prisoners, including women arrested for defying abusive compulsory veiling laws, if they are not held accountable.
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International
Shooting to kill and harm
Amnesty International has gathered eyewitness accounts and analysed images and videos of the protests, which reveal a harrowing pattern of Iranian security forces unlawfully and repeatedly firing metal pellets directly at protesters.
Eyewitnesses reported that at least three men (Fereydoun Mahmoudi in Saqqez, Kurdistan province; Farjad Darvishi in Urumieh, West Azerbaijan province; and an unidentified man in Kermanshah, Kermanshah province) and one woman (Minou Majidi in Kermanshah, Kermanshah province) died from fatal injuries caused by metal pellets during protests on 19 and 20 September. Four other victims, Reza Lotfi and Foad Ghadimi in Dehgolan, Kurdistan province; Mohsen Mohammadi in Divandareh, Kurdistan province; and 16-year-old boy Zakaria Khial in Urumieh were killed. Human rights defenders told Amnesty International that according to their sources on the ground, they were shot by security forces but did not have any additional information on the types of munitions used.
Authorities have confirmed the death of three people in Kurdistan province on 19 September and two people in Kermanshah province on 20 September, but, consistent with widespread patterns of denial and cover-up, they attributed responsibility for their deaths to “enemies of the [the Islamic Republic]”.
Consistent eyewitness accounts and video footage leave no doubt that those firing weapons during the protests belonged to Iran’s security forces. Extensive video evidence indicates that protesters in Kermanshah, Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces, where protester deaths were recorded, were mostly peaceful. In some places, some protesters engaged in stone-throwing and damaged police vehicles.* This in no way justifies the use of metal pellets, which is prohibited under all circumstances.
Horrific injuries inflicted on protesters
According to a primary source interviewed by Amnesty International, on 16 September, the first day of protests, security forces in Saqqez fired birdshot at 18-year-old Nachirvan Maroufi at a distance of about 10 metres, resulting in him losing sight in his right eye. The source said security forces also fired birdshot at another young man, 22-year-old Parsa Sehat, who consequently lost sight in both eyes.
On 19 September, mass protests spread from Saqqez to other cities populated by Iran’s oppressed Kurdish minority including Baneh, Dehgolan, Divandareh, Kamyaran, Mahabad, and Sanandaj. Protesters, victims’ relatives, and journalists on the ground told Amnesty International that on that day alone, security forces injured hundreds of men, women, and children by repeatedly firing metal pellets at their heads and chests at close range, indicating intent to cause maximum harm.
An eyewitness to the crackdown in Kamyaran told Amnesty International: “Riot police were repeatedly firing towards people from about 100 metres away… I myself witnessed at least 10-20 people who were shot with metal pellets… Most of them were injured in their backs as they were running away.”
A protester from Mahabad described a similar pattern. He said: “In response to people chanting ‘Women, Life, Freedom’ and ‘Death to the Dictator’, security forces fired weapons loaded with metal pellets, often from a distance of about 20-30 meters… They particularly targeted people in their head.”
A journalist from Baneh similarly told Amnesty International: “Security forces directly shot people in their stomachs and backs at close range… Many of those initially shot at and injured were women because women stood in the front.”
Eyewitness accounts of the security forces’ extensive use of metal pellets are corroborated by videos and photos reviewed by Amnesty International in which sounds of repeated firing are heard and classic spray patterns of birdshot are seen on injured protesters and bystanders.
Gruesome images and eyewitness testimonies obtained by Amnesty International further indicate that in Divandareh, Saqqez and Dehgolan, security forces also fired unidentified munition, causing gaping wounds on protesters’ legs, chests and abdomens.
They include Zana Karimi, a 17-year-old boy who sustained severe leg injuries after being shot in Divandareh, which may require his leg to be amputated and Ehsan Ghafouri who suffered severe kidney injuries after being shot in Dehgolan.
Amnesty International has learnt that most injured protesters and bystanders are not seeking hospital treatment for fear of arrest, which puts them at risk of infection and other medical complications.
Security forces violently arrested several hundred demonstrators, including children, both during the protests of 19 September and subsequent raids carried out during the night. An eyewitness reported seeing scores of arrested protesters in Kamyaran with fractured heads, noses or arms and bloodied bodies.
“Iran’s security forces will continue to feel emboldened to kill or injure protesters and prisoners, including women arrested for defying abusive compulsory veiling laws, if they are not held accountable. With all avenues for accountability closed at the domestic level, the UN Human Rights Council has a duty to send a strong message to the Iranian authorities that those responsible for crimes under international law will not go unpunished,” said Diana Eltahawy.
On 13 September 2022, Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini was arrested in Tehran by Iran’s so-called “morality” police, who routinely subject women and girls to arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment for not complying with the country’s discriminatory veiling laws.
According to eyewitnesses, Mahsa Amini was violently beaten while being forcibly transferred to Vozara detention centre in Tehran. Within hours, she was transferred to Kasra hospital having fallen into a coma. She died three days later. Iranian authorities announced investigations while simultaneously denying any wrongdoing. The promised investigation does not meet the requirements of independence as it is due to be carried out by the Ministry of Interior.
* End Note – This press release is focused on the provinces of Kurdistan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan where protesters were killed. Amnesty International is investigating the crackdown of protests that have taken place in other cities across Iran since 19 September including Hamedan, Rasht, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Tehran.
Amnesty International: Iran’s highest military body instructed the commanders of armed forces in all provinces to “severely confront” protesters who took to the streets following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police, Amnesty International said today after obtaining leaked official documents which revealed the authorities’ plan to systematically crush the protests at any cost. The crackdown has left at least 52 identified victims dead and hundreds injured to date.
In a detailed analysis issued today, Amnesty International divulges evidence of the Iranian authorities’ plot to brutally crush the demonstrations by deploying the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij paramilitary force, the Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran, riot police, and plainclothes security agents. The organization also shares evidence of the widespread use of lethal force and firearms by Iranian security forces who either intended to kill protesters or should have known with a reasonable degree of certainty that their use of firearms would result in deaths.
“The Iranian authorities knowingly decided to harm or kill people who took to the streets to express their anger at decades of repression and injustice. Amid an epidemic of systemic impunity that has long prevailed in Iran, dozens of men, women and children have been unlawfully killed in the latest round of bloodshed,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“Without determined collective action by the international community, which needs to go beyond mere statements of condemnation, countless more face being killed, maimed, tortured, sexually assaulted or thrown behind bars solely for their participation in protests. Leaked documents obtained by Amnesty International bring into sharp focus the need for an international independent investigative and accountability mechanism.”
Based on eyewitness accounts and audio-visual evidence reviewed by Amnesty International, none of the 52 identified victims posed any imminent threat of death or serious injury that could warrant the use of firearms against them.
State denial and coverup after a week of unlawful killings
Amnesty International has obtained a leaked copy of an official document which states that, on 21 September 2022, the General Headquarters of Armed Forces issued an order to commanders in all provinces instructing them to “severely confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”. Later that evening, the use of lethal force across the country escalated with dozens of men, women and children killed that night alone.
The Iranian authorities knowingly decided to harm or kill people who took to the streets to express their anger at decades of repression and injustice.
Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International
Another leaked document shows that, on 23 September, the commander of the armed forces in Mazandaran province ordered security forces in all towns and cities in the province to “confront mercilessly, going as far as causing deaths, any unrest by rioters and anti-Revolutionaries”.
Amnesty International has so far recorded the names of 52 people, including five women and at least five children, killed by Iran’s security forces between 19 September and 25 September. Two thirds of the recorded deaths (at least 34) are from 21 September. The organization believes the real death toll is far higher and is continuing its efforts to identify victims.
Amnesty International has reviewed photos and videos showing that most victims were killed by security forces firing live ammunition. At least three men and two women were killed due to security forces firing metal pellets at close range, while a 16-year-old girl Sarina Esmailzadeh died after being severely beaten in the head with batons.
In an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility for the deaths, the Iranian authorities have shared false narratives about victims, attempting to portray them as “dangerous”, “violent individuals” or claiming that they had been killed by “rioters”. The authorities have been also intimidating and harassing victims’ families into silence or promising them financial compensation if they recorded videos attributing responsibility of their loved ones’ deaths to “rioters” working for “enemies” of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Protesters tortured and otherwise ill-treated
Amnesty International has documented widespread patterns of torture and other ill-treatment by security forces, including severe beatings of protesters and bystanders. The organization has also documented sexual assault and other forms of gender-based and sexual violence, including cases where security forces grabbed women’s breasts or violently pulled their hair after they removed their headscarves in protest.
On 28 September, a protester from Esfahan told Amnesty International: “I have seen protesters beaten. The night before, my friends recounted how they saw one woman [protester] was yanked from her hair along the ground. Her clothes were coming off her body and the security forces kept pulling her by the hair…”
“Two nights ago”, the protester added, “several of my friends were beaten with batons. One of them, who has now got bruises on her forearm and legs, told me that security forces cornered them in an alley and beat them with batons. One member of the security forces then said, ‘let’s also shoot them in the leg’ and another security agent said, ‘no, let’s go’. They are so brutal”.
Amnesty International has seen footage and reports suggesting that some protesters have engaged in acts of violence. However, Amnesty International stresses that violent acts by a minority of protesters do not justify the use of lethal force.
According to international human rights law and standards, even if some protesters engage in violence, law enforcement officials must ensure that those who remain peaceful can continue protesting without facing undue interference or intimidation by security forces. Any force used in response to such violence must at all times comply with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality in accordance with international law. Security forces must not use firearms except to defend themselves or others against an imminent threat of death or serious injury, and only when less extreme and harmful means are insufficient to protect life.
Aug 4, 2022
USCIRF Condemns Crackdown on Religious Minorities in Iran
Washington, D.C. – The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today condemned the Iranian government’s increased crackdown on religious minorities in the country.
In recent weeks, Iran has arrested scores of Baha’is and raided their homes and destroyed Baha’i houses in Mazandaran province. In addition, Iranian authorities have escalated their targeting of women who do not conform to the government’s endorsed version of Islam, arresting those who refuse to wear full religious head coverings and banning them from public facilities. The government has also arrested women who have peacefully protested these religious edicts.
“Iran’s government cannot create stability and security by targeting vulnerable religious minorities and peaceful dissenters, yet it continues these appalling violations of religious freedom,” said USCIRF Commissioner Sharon Kleinbaum. “We urge the U.S. government to forcefully and publicly call out Iranian authorities for persecuting Iran’s Baha’i community and for using religion as the basis to restrict women’s freedom of religion or belief by forcing a religious practice that is a matter of individual choice under international law.”
The Iranian government considers the Baha’i faith a “deviant sect of Islam” and has targeted the community for decades. Earlier this year, Iran’s courts sentenced Baha’is on spurious national security charges, forcing eight Baha’is to attend “counseling sessions” in prison to pressure them to convert. The Ministry of Intelligence has accused Baha’is of “infiltrating educational environments,” and Iran’s government engages in systematic misinformation campaigns against the Baha’i community.
In early July, Iran’s government announced a campaign against women not wearing what authorities deem proper religious head coverings. Iran has arrested several women who peacefully protested forced religious dress, and accused others of dancing in public. At the Behesht Zahra cemetery in Tehran, authorities removed 98 headstones depicting women without the religious head covering.
“The world cannot watch passively as Iran uses religion as a pretext to harm minorities and women,” said USCIRF Commissioner Eric Ueland. “We call on the Biden administration to work with the International Religious Freedom and Belief Alliance to coordinate multilateral pressure on Iran to end its decades-long persecution of Baha’is. Furthermore, Congress should pass H.Res.744 and S.Res.183, bipartisan bills condemning Iran’s persecution of the Baha’i community.”
In its 2022 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. State Department designate Iran as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations. USCIRF recently published a country update on religious freedom conditions in Iran so far in 2022, held a hearing on “State-Sanctioned Religious Freedom Violations and Coercion by Saudi Arabia and Iran,” highlighted the situation for religious prisoners of conscience in Iran on an episode of the USCIRF Spotlight Podcast, and published a report on Religious Propaganda in Iran.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is an independent, bipartisan federal government entity established by the U.S. Congress to monitor, analyze, and report on religious freedom abroad. USCIRF makes foreign policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress intended to deter religious persecution and promote freedom of religion and belief. To interview a Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at email@example.com.
The Iranian authorities have embarked on an execution spree, killing at least 251 people between 1 January and 30 June 2022, according to research by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre for Human Rights in Iran and Amnesty International. The organizations warned that if executions continue at this horrifying pace, they will soon surpass the total of 314 executions recorded for the whole of 2021.
Most (146) of those executed in 2022 had been convicted of murder, amid well-documented patterns of executions being systematically carried out following grossly unfair trials. At least 86 others were executed for drug-related offences which, according to international law, should not incur the death penalty. On 23 July, the authorities executed one man in public in Fars province, after a halt in public executions for two years during the pandemic.
“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. Iran’s staggering execution toll for the first half of this year has chilling echoes of 2015 when there was another shocking spike,” said Diana Eltahawy, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“The renewed surge in executions, including in public, shows yet again just how out of step Iran is with the rest of the world, with 144 countries having rejected the death penalty in law or practice. The Iranian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty completely,” said Roya Boroumand, Executive Director of Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre, an Iranian human rights organization.
The figures compiled by Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre and Amnesty International draw from a variety of sources, including prisoners, relatives of those executed, human rights defenders, journalists, and reports by state media as well as independent media outlets and human rights organizations.
The real number is likely higher, given the secrecy around the number of death sentences the authorities impose and carry out.
Mass executions in prisons
Information gathered shows that since early 2022, the authorities have regularly carried out mass executions across Iran.
On 15 June 2022, authorities in Raja’i Shahr prison in Alborz province executed at least 12 people. This followed the mass execution of at least 12 people on 6 June 2022 in Zahedan prison in Sistan and Baluchistan province.
On 14 May 2022, the authorities executed nine people: three in Zahedan prison, one in Vakilabad prison in Khorasan-e Razavi province, four in Adelabad prison in Fars province, and one in Dastgerd prison in Esfahan province.
The state machinery is carrying out killings on a mass scale across the country in an abhorrent assault on the right to life.
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International
According to an informed source interviewed by Amnesty International in June 2022, since early 2022, authorities in Raja’i Shahr prison, which has one of the largest numbers of people on death row, have been executing five people each week on average, with up to 10 executions carried out some weeks. The figure corresponds with public letters written separately in recent months by human rights defenders Saeed Eghabli and Farhad Meysami who are unjustly jailed in Raja’i Shahr prison. The former referred to weekly executions of up to 10 people in Raja’i Shahr prison while the latter warned that the total number of executions there could surpass 200 by the end of 2022.
The informed source also said that Raja’i Shahr’s associate prosecutor (dadyar) recently told prisoners that the Office for the Implementation of Sentences had written to the families of about 530 murder victims, asking them to decide whether to pardon or seek the execution of those convicted of murdering their kin by late March 2023.
The same source said repeated statements by the head of judiciary Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei and other senior judicial officials in recent months about the need to address prison overcrowding have raised widespread fears among prisoners that the rise in executions is related to official efforts to reduce prisoner numbers. The fears expressed are supported by past patterns monitored by Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre that indicate spikes in executions coincide with periods when the authorities make repeated public statements about their goals to address case backlogs and reduce overcrowding.
Renewed surge in drug-related executions
The execution of at least 86 people for drug-related offences in the first six months of 2022 has grim echoes of the authorities’ anti-narcotics practices in the years between 2010 and 2017, when most recorded executions were for drug-related offences.
In November 2017, following intense international pressure, which included several European countries cutting off funds to anti-narcotics operations by Iran’s law enforcement forces, the authorities adopted some legal reforms to eliminate the death penalty for certain drug-related offences.
Between 2018 and 2020, the authorities considerably reduced drug-related executions. However, in 2021, at least 132 people were executed for drug-related offences, accounting for 42% of overall recorded executions and representing more than a five-fold rise from 2020 (23).
The international community, including the EU and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, must urgently undertake high-level interventions, calling on the Iranian authorities to end the death penalty for all drug-related offences. They must ensure that any cooperation in anti-drug trafficking initiatives does not directly or indirectly contribute to the arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, which is the defining characteristic of Iran’s anti-narcotics operations.
The Iranian authorities must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty completely.
Roya Boroumand, Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre
Baluchi minority disproportionately affected
At least 65 (26 %) of those executed since 2022 were members of Iran’s impoverished Baluchi ethnic minority, who make up about 5% of Iran’s population. Over half (38) were executed for drug-related offences.
“The disproportionate use of the death penalty against Iran’s Baluchi minority epitomizes the entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades and further highlights the inherent cruelty of the death penalty, which targets the most vulnerable populations in Iran and worldwide,” said Roya Boroumand.
Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre and Amnesty International oppose the death penalty without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
The number of executions in Iran in 2021 was the highest since 2017. The rise began in September 2021, after the head of judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, rose to the presidency and the Supreme Leader appointed a former Minister of Intelligence, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, as the new head of judiciary.
The Iranian authorities carried out one public execution in 2022, none in 2021, one in 2020, 13 in 2019 and 13 in 2018. Official announcements indicate that in early 2022, at least two other people in Esfahan province and one person in Lorestan province were sentenced to be executed in public.
The death penalty is imposed in Iran following trials that are systematically unfair, with torture-tainted “confessions” routinely used as evidence. The UN Special Rapporteur on Iran has stated that “entrenched flaws in law … mean that most, if not all, executions are an arbitrary deprivation of life.”
Under Iranian law, the death penalty applies to numerous offences including financial crimes, rape and armed robbery. Activities protected by international human rights law such as consensual same-sex sexual conduct, extramarital sexual relations and speech deemed “insulting to the Prophet of Islam” as well as vaguely-worded offences such as “enmity against God” and “spreading corruption on earth” are also punishable by death.
Launched in 2002, June 12 marks the World Day Against Child Labour. Under Article 32 of the Universal Declaration of Child Rights, it states that children must be protected from any work that threatens their growth and health, and that governments must specify the minimum working age and working conditions for children. The day of observation was created to raise awareness and activism to prevent children from across the world from being forced into child labor.
The question is how is the situation of child labor among the street children in Iran?
Many times, the Iranian regime’s officials in the welfare departments of the provinces, and the managers of the municipal departments of different cities have identified thousands of children working in the country.
However, due to the negligence of the responsible organizations and the existence of a state-controlled mafia abusing the children, accurate statistics on the number of working and street children are not provided by the relevant authorities. Often, in different comments by some regime officials, the number of working children is estimated to be in the millions.
The problem of child labor is like an iceberg, meaning that we can only see what is visible – the children working on the street – but a large majority of the children are working out of sight in workshops and other places.
In a previous comment, the Director-General of Welfare in Tehran Province said that in Tehran metros alone, more than 2000 children are working. Unofficial statistics have stated that more than 20,000 children are working on the streets of Tehran, and from that number more than 4,000 of them are working as waste collectors.
One of the factors that have been considered as the reason for the high number of child laborers in Iran is the high number of parents who are unemployed or struggling with social crises. As a result, they are forced to send their children to the streets to find work. The latest estimation by the regime suggests that more than seven million children are forced to work in this way.
75% of working children are in the age group of 10 to 14 years old, with the average age being 13 years old. Around 5% of children are under 7 years old, while the gender composition of working children shows that about 15% of these children are girls and 85% are boys.
According to the regime’s experts, around 30% of these children do not know if they had a birth certificate. Fifty percent of these children started working between the ages of 7 and 10, and 20 percent work started under the age of seven.
Of the children in Iran forced into child labor, 35% of these children are in good health, with the other 65% being in poor conditions. 40% of these children are completely illiterate, 75% of the rest have at least a sixth-grade education, and only 3% have had a high school education.
Eighty percent of boys and 60 percent of girls work in the public and semi-public sectors, with the rest of the boys working in shops, mechanics, repair shops, markets, warehouses, agriculture, and recycling factories. The rest of the girls work in houses, workshops, shops and agricultural land, and greenhouses. The number of girls working in the waste recycling workshop is also much higher than boys, which makes them more vulnerable.
With the regime’s medieval culture strongly encouraging girls’ workers into prostitution, we now see that the average age of these girls has reached below 15. These young girls are routinely sexually abused and exploited.
The results of the regime’s recent welfare surveys have shown that of those children working on the streets, 33.8% of these children work between one and four hours, 52.1% work between four and eight hours and 13% of them spend more than eight hours on the street.
Surveys have also shown that around 73% of street children have a history of violence, both physical and non-physical acts such as humiliation, bullying, etc.
These days, it is not just a matter of illiteracy, school dropouts, or malnutrition affecting these children. HIV, addiction, depression, self-harm, suicide, sexual harassment, uncontrolled violence, etc. are all emerging amongst the population of working children.
An important point, which is less related to the physical problems and physical abilities to work with children and more related to their psychological and social issues, is that these children do not have a childhood at all, and this can have very profound lifelong consequences.
These children cannot play and interact with their peers and are not exposed to the joys and excitements of childhood. Instead, they are exposed to stresses and pressures in the workplace that are not appropriate for their age, and their brain, soul, and psyche are not ready to deal with it. This unfortunately makes them more prone to many psychological and social disorders that will stay with them throughout their adult lives.
Children in Iran are victims of the regime’s destructive policies. Many families cannot send their children to school simply because they cannot afford the necessary supplies. These destructive policies are summed up in institutionalized corruption, wasting national wealth on nuclear and missile programs, terrorism, and oppression, which has led t the freefall of the country’s economy.
• Iran records highest known execution figure since 2017
• Despite regression, 2021 global execution figure represents the second-lowest figure Amnesty International has recorded since at least 2010
• Easing of Covid-19 restrictions sees surge in number of recorded death sentences
• Almost 90 known to have been sentenced to death under martial law in Myanmar
2021 saw a worrying rise in executions and death sentences as some of the world’s most prolific executioners returned to business as usual and courts were unshackled from Covid-19 restrictions, Amnesty International said today in its annual review of the death penalty.
At least 579 executions were known to have been carried out across 18 countries last year—a 20% increase on the recorded total for 2020. Iran accounted for the biggest portion of this rise, executing at least 314 people (up from at least 246 in 2020), its highest execution total since 2017. This was due in part to a marked increase in drug-related executions—a flagrant violation of international law which prohibits use of the death penalty for crimes other than those involving intentional killing. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia more than doubled its number of executions, a grim trend that continued in 2022 with the execution of 81 people in a single day in March.
“After the drop in their execution totals in 2020, Iran and Saudi Arabia once again ramped up their use of the death penalty last year, including by shamelessly violating prohibitions put in place under international human rights law. Their appetite for putting the executioner to work has also shown no sign of abating in the early months of 2022,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
Executing countries in 2017-2021
As Covid-19 restrictions that had previously delayed judicial processes were steadily lifted in many parts of the world, judges handed down at least 2,052 death sentences in 56 countries—a close to 40% increase on 2020—with big spikes seen in countries including Bangladesh (at least 181, from at least 113), India (144, from 77) and Pakistan (at least 129, from at least 49).
“Instead of building on the opportunities presented by hiatuses in 2020, a minority of states demonstrated a troubling enthusiasm to choose the death penalty over effective solutions to crime, showing a callous disregard for the right to life even amid urgent and ongoing global human rights crises,” said Agnès Callamard.
Despite these setbacks, the total number of recorded executions in 2021 constitutes the second-lowest figure, after 2020, that Amnesty International has recorded since at least 2010.
As in previous years, the recorded global totals for death sentences and executions do not include the thousands of people that Amnesty International believes to have been sentenced to death and executed in China, as well as the extensive number of executions believed to have taken place in North Korea and Viet Nam. Secretive state practices and restricted access to information for these three countries made it impossible to accurately monitor executions, while for several other countries, recorded totals must be regarded as minimum figures.
Instead of building on the opportunities presented by hiatuses in 2020, a minority of states demonstrated a troubling enthusiasm to choose the death penalty over effective solutions to crime, showing a callous disregard for the right to life even amid urgent and ongoing global human rights crises,
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
“China, North Korea and Viet Nam continued to shroud their use of the death penalty behind layers of secrecy, but, as ever, the little we saw is cause for great alarm,” said Agnès Callamard.
Iran maintains a mandatory death penalty for possession of certain types and quantities of drugs—with the number of executions recorded for drug-related offences rising more than five-fold to 132 in 2021 from 23 the previous year. The known number of women executed also rose from nine to 14, while the Iranian authorities continued their abhorrent assault on children’s rights by executing three people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime, contrary to their obligations under international law.
As well as the rise in executions seen in Saudi Arabia (65, from 27 in 2020), significant increases on 2020 were seen in Somalia (at least 21, from at least 11) South Sudan (at least 9, from at least 2) and Yemen (at least 14, from at least 5). Belarus (at least 1), Japan (3) and UAE (at least 1) also carried out executions, having not done so in 2020.
Significant increases in death sentences compared to 2020 were recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (at least 81, from at least 20), Egypt (at least 356, from at least 264), Iraq (at least 91, from at least 27), Myanmar (at least 86, from at least 1), Viet Nam (at least 119 from at least 54), and Yemen (at least 298, from at least 269).
Death penalty as a tool of state repression
In several countries in 2021, the death penalty was deployed as an instrument of state repression against minorities and protestors, with governments showing an utter disregard for safeguards and restrictions on the death penalty established under international human rights law and standards.
An alarming increase in the use of the death penalty under martial law was recorded in Myanmar, where the military transferred the authority to try civilian cases to military tribunals, which conducted summary proceedings without the right to appeal. Close to 90 people were arbitrarily sentenced to death, several in absentia, in what was widely perceived as a targeted campaign against protestors and journalists.
Egyptian authorities continued to resort to torture and mass executions, often following unfair trials before Emergency State Security Courts, while in Iran, death sentences were disproportionately used against members of ethnic minorities for vague charges such as “enmity against God”. At least 19% of the recorded executions (61) were members of the Baluchi ethnic minority, who constitute only around 5% of Iran’s population.
Victims of Saudi Arabia’s deeply flawed justice system included Mustafa al-Darwish, a young Saudi Arabian man from the Shi’a minority who was accused of participating in violent anti-government protests. He was executed on 15 June following a grossly unfair trial based on a “confession” extracted through torture.
Positive signs towards global abolition
Despite these alarming developments, positive signs of a global trend toward abolition continued throughout 2021. For the second consecutive year, the number of countries known to have executed people was the lowest since Amnesty International began keeping records.
Trend towards abolition
In Sierra Leone, an Act which abolishes the death penalty for all crimes was unanimously adopted by parliament in July, although it is yet to come into effect. In December, Kazakhstan adopted legislation to abolish the death penalty for all crimes, which came into effect in January 2022. The Government of Papua New Guinea embarked on a national consultation on the death penalty, which resulted in the adoption of an abolition bill in January 2022, which is yet to come into force. At the end of the year, the Government of Malaysia announced that it would table legislative reforms on the death penalty in the third quarter of 2022. And, in Central African Republic and Ghana, lawmakers started legislative processes to abolish the death penalty, which remain ongoing.
In the US, Virginia became the 23rd abolitionist state and first southern state to have abolished the death penalty, while, for the third consecutive year, Ohio rescheduled or halted all set executions. The new US administration also established a temporary moratorium on federal executions in July. 2021 marked the lowest number of executions in the US since 1988.
Gambia, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan continued to observe official moratoriums on executions.
The minority of countries that still retain the death penalty are on notice: a world without state-sanctioned killing is not only imaginable, it is within reach and we will continue to fight for it.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
“The minority of countries that still retain the death penalty are on notice: a world without state-sanctioned killing is not only imaginable, it is within reach and we will continue to fight for it. We will continue to expose the inherent arbitrariness, discrimination, and cruelty of this punishment until no one will be left under its shadow. It is high time the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment is consigned to the history books,” said Agnès Callamard.