Iran recorded the biggest spike in executions last year out of all countries surveyed for Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty.
At least 579 executions took place worldwide in 2021, a 20 percent rise on the previous year. Of these, Amnesty’s researchers were able to confirm 314 had taken place in Iran, the highest logged since 2017 (Iran Human Rights counted 333 in its own report on the death penalty last month).
In Iran this was due in part to a marked increase in drug-related executions, from 23 in 2020 to 132 in 2021, according to Amnesty’s data. All these judicial killings were in violation of international law, which only permits use of the death penalty for crimes involving murder.
In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, the number of executions more than doubled to 65, a grim trend that continued in 2022 with the execution of 81 people 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,” Amnesty secretary-general Agnes Callamard said.
“Their appetite for putting the executioner to work has also shown no sign of abating in the early months of 2022.”
Researchers also suggested the end of Covid-19 restrictions had had a chilling effect, with previously-delayed judicial processes steadily lifted. In 2021 judges handed down at least 2,052 death sentences in 56 countries, a close to 40 percent increase on 2020.
Like other Iranian human rights observers Amnesty also noted a disproportionate use of the death penalty against members of ethnic minorities, usually on vague charges like “war against God” (moharebeh). At least 19 percent of the recorded executions, a total of 61, were Baluchis, who constitute only five percent of Iran’s population.