Mon, May 11, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Iran may execute as many as 600 each year: lawyer


Iran may be hanging up to 600 criminals a year as its use of the death penalty intensifies, a lawyer acting for many of the country’s death row prisoners has said.

Mohammad Mostafaei, who is campaigning to save 25 prisoners sentenced to death for crimes committed as minors, said he believes the true number of executions far exceeds estimates given by international human rights groups.

“I have calculated there were at least 400 executions last year, but it could be 500 to 600,” he said.

There are no official figures for Iran’s application of capital punishment, which campaigners say ranks second only to China’s. Amnesty International puts last year’s number of executions at 346, up from 317 in 2007. It says 150 have taken place already this year, an average of more than one a day.

Mostafaei’s estimate follows the execution of Delara Darabi, 22, who was hanged on May 1 for allegedly murdering a wealthy elderly relative when she was 17. She initially admitted the murder, but claimed later she was talked into falsely confessing by her boyfriend, the real culprit. Darabi’s parents learnt of her pending execution only when she called them saying she could see a hangman’s noose and pleading for them to save her.

The outcry over her death may have helped reprieve two of Mostafaei’s other clients, Amir Khaleghi and Safar Angooti, who were given stays of execution last week for murders committed when they were 16 and 17 respectively.

But the prospect of Iran lessening its use of capital punishment appears remote after nine prisoners were hanged last Wednesday, four for murder and five for drug trafficking. They included a 30-year-old woman, Zeynab Nazarzadeh, who was convicted of murdering her husband.

Iran’s Islamic legal code permits the death penalty for a range of offences in addition to murder and drug trafficking — including rape, adultery, espionage, armed robbery and being a “corruptor on earth.” Campaigners say executions have soared since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2005. Some observers suspect the increase in executions is a show of defiance to Western critics of Iran’s human rights record.

Mostafaei said he aimed to reduce the rate by having capital punishment abolished for all those convicted as minors and by restricting its application only to aggravated crimes, such as serial murders.

He also called for its abolition in cases where defendants had killed without intent and where mental health issues were involved.

“If we restrict all these cases, I am sure that the number of executions in our country wouldn’t be this high,” Mostafaei said. “If we accept that 500 to 600 executions are carried out a year, my plan, which would observe religious and Koranic principles, would result in the number declining to perhaps 20 per year.”

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