United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Amnesty Report: Iran Death Penalties

In 2014, Iranian authorities announced 289 executions, “but hundreds more were carried out which were not officially acknowledged,” according to a new report by Amnesty International. The organization estimated that at least 454 unannounced executions were carried out in the Islamic Republic. China carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together, but the other countries making up the top five executioners were Iran, Saudi Arabia (at least 90 executions), Iraq (at least 61) and the United States (35). The following is an excerpt from the report on Iran.  

Iran carried out the most executions in the region (Middle East) in 2014. Iranian authorities or state-controlled or state-sanctioned media officially announced 289 executions (278 men and 11 women). However, reliable sources reported at least 454 more executions in addition to those officially announced, bringing the total number of executions in 2014 to at least 743. Of those officially announced, 122 involved individuals convicted of drug-related offences and 29 were carried out in public. At least 81 death sentences were imposed. This figure included those that were officially announced and those that were not. In addition, at least 22 commutations were granted while at least 81 people were on death row at the end of the year.
During the year, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic
Republic of Iran expressed concern about the continued high rate of executions and use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in Iran.
Amnesty International received reports that Iran executed at least 14 people who were under 18 at the time of the crime. In December, the Supreme Court issued a “pilot judgment” ruling that all individuals currently on death row for crimes committed while they were under the age of 18 can submit judicial review requests to the Supreme Court pursuant to Article 91 of the revised Islamic Penal Code. The revised Penal Code allows the execution of juvenile offenders under qesas (retribution-in-kind) and hodoud (offences and punishments for which there are fixed penalties under Islamic law) crimes, unless the juvenile offender is found to have not understood the nature of the crime or its consequences, or if there are doubts about the offender’s mental capacity. The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders is strictly prohibited under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Iran is a party to both International human rights treaties.
Iran continued to carry out executions in secret. Hadi Rashedi and Hashem Sha’bani Nejad, of the Ahwazi Arab minority, were executed in secret in January 2014, following an unfair trial in 2012 which resulted in them being convicted of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth.” The authorities did not tell their families when they were executed and refused to hand over their bodies for burial.
Death sentences were generally imposed following trials that fell short of international fair trial standards. Defendants often had no access to lawyers during pre-trial investigations, and courts generally dismissed allegations of torture and admitted as evidence “confessions” obtained under torture.
Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed on 25 October in Raja’i Shahr Prison, in Karaj near Tehran, for the killing of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a former employee of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence. Reyhaneh Jabbari was arrested in 2007 and admitted the stabbing immediately after arrest. She said she had acted in self defence, after he had tried to sexually abuse her. Following her arrest, she was held in solitary confinement for two months in Tehran’s Evin Prison, where she did not have access to a lawyer or her family. She was sentenced to death under qesas by a criminal court in Tehran in 2009. The death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court the same year. Sentences of Qesas are not open to pardon or amnesty by the Supreme Leader.
Iranian courts continued to sentence people to death for crimes that did not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” and crimes not recognizably criminal offences under international human rights law.
Soheil Arabi was sentenced to death on 30 August by a criminal court in Tehran for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” (sabbo al-nabbi). The charge was based on postings he made on eight Facebook accounts, which the authorities said belonged to him. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence on 24 November. Soheil Arabi had been arrested in November 2013 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and spent two months in solitary confinement in section 2A of Tehran’s Evin Prison, which is under the control of the IRGC. During interrogation, he was pressured into making a “confession”.
Earlier in February 2014, the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of another man, Rouhollah Tavana, for “insulting the Prophet of Islam” in a video clip. He had been sentenced to death on 3 August 2013 by a criminal court in Khorasan.
In December, the threat of execution was used to punish some death row inmates. The authorities threatened to expedite the execution of 10 men, including a juvenile offender, for going on hunger strike. The men were among 24 prisoners from Iran’s Kurdish minority who started a hunger strike on 20 November in protest at the conditions of Ward 12 of Oroumieh Central Prison, West Azerbaijan Province, where political prisoners are held. The juvenile offender, Saman Naseem, was sentenced to death following an unfair trial in 2013 on the charges of “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth” for his alleged membership of the armed opposition group, Party For Free Life of Kurdistan, and engaging in armed activities against the state. Saman Naseem was 17 at the time of the alleged offences.
Click here for the full report.

Poll: Iranians See Economy Improving

Iranians believe economic conditions have improved since sanctions were eased under the Joint Plan of Action in November 2013, according to a new Gallup poll. In May 2013, 62 percent of Iranians said sanctions hurt their livelihood "a great deal," but only 45 percent gave the same response in November 2014. The following are key findings from the poll.

Fewer Iranians See Sanctions Hurting a "Great Deal"

The United Nations, the U.S., and Western Europe continue to impose sanctions on Iran. Do you think these sanctions have hurt the livelihood of Iranians a great deal, somewhat, or not at all?

May 2013
November 2014
A great deal
Not at all


Fewer Iranians See Sanctions Hurting Them Personally

Have these sanctions personally hurt your livelihood a great deal, hurt it somewhat, or have they not hurt your livelihood at all?

May 2013
November 2014
A great deal
Not at all


The poll also found that more Iranians believe the economy and living standards are improving.




Click here for more information on the poll

Polls: Americans Support Nuke Talks

The following are excerpts from five recent polls, four of which found that more Americans approve of nuclear talks with Iran than disapprove. One poll found that more Americans disapprove than approve of President Barack Obama’s general handling of Iran relations. Two of the surveys were conducted just days before the March 31 deadline for a preliminary political agreement between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
Washington Post-ABC News
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 59 percent of American support an agreement in which the United States and other major world powers lift major sanctions in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. The survey, conducted March 26-29, also showed that 31 percent oppose such a deal. Support outpaced opposition across nearly all demographic and political groups. Republicans were split. Some 47 percent supported a deal and 43 percent opposed.
But nearly six in 10 Americans were not confident that a deal will prevent Tehran from attaining nuclear weapons. The following is the breakdown of confidence in an agreement:
  • Very confident: 4 percent
  • Somewhat confident: 33 percent
  • Not so confident: 26 percent
  • Not confident at all: 34 percent
  • No opinion: 3 percent
Click here for more information on the poll.
Pew Research Center
More Americans approve than disapprove of Washington negotiating directly with Tehran over its nuclear program, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. But the majority do not think Iranian leaders are “serious” about addressing the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The results (left) are from the poll, conducted March 25-29. 
CBS News
A CBS News poll conducted March 21-24 found that more Americans disapprove than approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of Iran relations. 

Some 45 percent of Americans think Iran’s nuclear program can be contained for now. Another 29 percent think military action is now required to remove the threat.

Click here for the full results. 

CNN and ORC International

Americans broadly support direct negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program, according to a new poll by CNN and ORC International. But they are split across party lines regarding the open letter to Iran’s leaders signed by 47 Republican senators. The letter warned that a nuclear deal signed during President Barack Obama’s tenure could be revoked by the next president or modified by a future Congress. The following are key results from the survey, which was conducted March 13-15.

• 68 percent of Americans support direct negotiations, including 77 percent of Democrats, 65 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of independents
• 29 percent oppose direct negotiations
• 49 percent say the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s leaders went too far, including 67 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of independents
• 39 percent say the GOP letter was an appropriate response to the way negotiations were going, including 52 percent of Republicans and 42 percent of independents
• 18 percent think the GOP letter helped U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons while 32 percent think the letter hurt those efforts
  • 44 percent say the letter had no impact on negotiations
Click here for more information.
University of Maryland 

The majority of Americans favor a potential nuclear deal with Iran, according to a new survey by Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull in the Program for Public Consultation and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. More than 60 percent of respondents support a deal that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose inspections in exchange for lifting some sanctions. The poll was conducted February 19-25, with a sample of 710 adults.The following are excerpted key findings from the poll.

"In this survey a representative sample of Americans were presented the two primary options that have dominated this debate:
· For the US to continue to pursue an agreement that would accept some enrichment by Iran, but with substantial limits that would preclude Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, and intrusive inspections to ensure those limits are met, in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.
· For the US to not accept any Iranian enrichment. Instead, the US would continue trying to get other nations to impose new economic sanctions in an effort to persuade Iran to cease enrichment completely.
While majorities found arguments for both options at least somewhat convincing, when asked to make their final recommendation, a clear majority of 61% recommended making a deal with Iran that would include a limited enrichment capacity for Iran. This included 61% of Republicans, 66% of Democrats and 54% of independents. The alternative of increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment was endorsed by 36%."
"Majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents all made this same judgment. Republicans chose continuing negotiations by 61 to 35%, while Democrats favored it by 66 to 32%. A relatively more modest majority of Independents favored a deal by 54 to 42%.
This response was essentially the same as when PPC took respondents through the exact same process and found 61% favored a deal and 35% favored pursuing sanctions. Partisan variations were not significantly different. In the current survey, among the 9% of the sample who identified themselves as very sympathetic to the Tea Party, a plurality of 46% favored pursuing a deal with 41% opposed. Those somewhat sympathetic to the Tea Party were no different from the sample as a whole.
Among those who watch Fox News daily (13% of sample) views were divided, rising to 55% in favor of a deal for those who watch it 2-3 times a week. There was no significant effect for watching MSNBC.
The strongest effect was among those who watch a Christian news network at least 2-3 times a week or more. Among this group only 26% favored a deal while 58% favored pursuing sanctions.
Respondents were also asked what they thought the effect of making a deal would have on the fight against the Islamic State. A majority of 63% said it would make no difference, but more (23%) said it would help, than said it would hurt (13%). Partisan differences were insignificant.
Click here for the full report


Tags: Poll, Reports

Nuke Talks: Diplomacy in Tweets & Pictures

On March 26, a new round of nuclear negotiations began in Lausanne, Switzerland between Iran and the world's six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States with only days remaining before the deadline for a political framework. The following are pictures and tweets from the recent round of talks.




U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chats in a hotel hallway with James Timbie, Senior Adviser to the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, amid a break in Iranian nuclear program negotiations on March 30, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Photo by U.S. Department of State via Flickr, Public Domain as U.S. Government work



Kerry reviews his briefing papers in Lausanne, Switzerland, on March 27, 2015, amid a break in negotiations with Iranian leaders.




Photo by U.S. Department of State via Flickr, Public Domain as U.S. Government work











Kerry chats with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on March 29, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland, before a coordinating meeting among the P5+1 partner nations.


Photo by U.S. Department of State via Flickr, Public Domain as U.S. Government work







Kerry greets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after they bumped into one another on March 29, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland, before a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of P5+1 partner negotiations.

Photo by U.S. Department of State via Flickr, Public Domain as U.S. Government work

Kerry speaks at a briefing with top advisers before meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Vice President of Iran for Atomic Energy and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and other Iranian officials on March 28, 2015, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Photo by U.S. Department of State via Flickr, Public Domain as U.S. Government work




The following are pictures of the hallway in which the press waits for meetings to end.


Report: Key Criteria for Nuclear Deal

A new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies outlines key criteria for judging a nuclear agreement with Iran. “Arms control is a process, not an event,” warns author Anthony Cordesman. “Actually implementing an agreement will involve a list of questions and issues, clarifications, and efforts to push the agreement to one side’s advantage that will go on for years.” And given that the adversarial nature of Iran’s relationship with the West is unlikely to change overnight, Cordesman argues that the agreement should be fully verifiable and enforceable and include “clear procedures for change and clarification.” Iran and the world’s six major powers aim to have a comprehensive agreement finished by June 30. The following are excerpts from the report.  

Key Criteria and Tests
1. Compromises and trade-offs are the price of negotiations but they must still must be judged by their relative success. There rarely is any chance of negotiating an agreement where one side decisively wins. Agreements are the product of trade-offs and compromises and the key is not winning a zero sum game, but emerging with more advantages from the best agreement one can actually negotiate than not having an agreement at all.
Accordingly, one key criterion is to judge the value of a negotiated compromise relative to the alternatives, not some one-sided view of the perfect agreement.
2. A static agreement is unworkable, but there must be clear procedures for change and clarification. Second, no real world agreement can ever live in a world where the negotiators can look 10 to 15 years in the future – or usually even 10 to 15 months – and predict all the important changes that will take place in politics, other security issues, technology, and tactics. Arms control either evolves or fails. The arms control process adapts and is revised, or becomes too rigid and ceases to be effective.
This makes it critical to have a well-defined set of reviews, to spell out the conditions for making revisions or changes, and have some agreed forum to decide on how to clarify and revisions the agreement – as well as a clear process for notification and warning if one side chooses to end the agreement
3. Adversarial agreements need to be fully verified. If they are not, they are an invitation to cheat and deceive. In this case, the P5+1 side can scarcely conceal any failure to lift sanctions or honor the civil side of the agreement. Iran has long demonstrated, however, that it can and does conceal and lie.
 As a result, it is not enough to simply give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) challenge and rapid inspection rights under the revised protocols the negotiators are debating. They have to have full mobility throughout the country and right to inspect any site they want – not some restricted list that makes cheating possible. Equally important, the members of the P+1 as well as outside powers have to commit to providing the IAEA with intelligence data and warning since it and the UN lack intelligence collection capability, and request IAEA action and inspection. Iran, in turn, should have the explicit right to challenge any failure to comply on the part of the P5+1 states.
4. Adversarial agreements need to be enforceable. Iran has a simple enforcement option if the P5+1 does not meet the requirements of any agreement: It can resume its nuclear weapons program. The P5+1, UN, and IAEA do not have that option. Credible enforcement requires an agreement that Iran’s failure to comply with lead to an immediate resumption of sanctions if it is found to be in violation, and the military option should be on the table.
Enrichment Issues
Enrichment issues are important, and any negotiable agreement is likely to be based on some set of compromises. Accordingly, this means an explicit analysis of the trade-offs between agreement and non-agreement relating to Iran’s various nuclear enrichment efforts and its ability to acquire fissile material. These issues include potential limits, controls, and inspection arrangements dealing with
· The number of centrifuges,
· The development of more advanced centrifuges,
· The level of Uranium enrichment and the size of Iran’s stockpiles,
· The potential use of the new reactor at Arak to produce Plutonium,
· How soon Iran could use any of these to get enough material to produce a nuclear device,
· The extent to which any agreement dealing with all of these issues is enforceable,
· How long an agreement will be in force, and
· The incentives to Iran for reaching an agreement, especially the extent to which UN, US, and EU sanctions will be lifted, and the timing of such action.
One critical technical issue will be how soon Iran could acquire enough fissile material to make a crude nuclear device once the agreement is in force. The importance of the one fissile event, one time, criteria, however, should not be exaggerated.
Click here for the full text.
Anthony Cordesman is the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Click here to read his chapter on Iran’s conventional military.

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo