Amnesty International: Executions Spike in Iran

Iran executed at least 853 people in 2023, a 48 percent rise compared to 2022, according to Amnesty International’s annual report on the death penalty. Iran executed more people than any other country except China. “The Iranian authorities showed complete disregard for human life and ramped up executions for drug-related offences, further highlighting the discriminatory impact of the death penalty on Iran’s most marginalized and impoverished communities,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

Some 64 percent of the executions were carried out for crimes that did not warrant the death penalty under international law, including drug-related offenses, robbery and espionage. The regime appeared to target the Baluchi ethnic minority, a disadvantaged group largely concentrated in southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province. Baluchi people accounted for 20 percent of all executions even though they only made up some five percent of the population. 

Top Five Executing Countries in 2023 

  • China: 1,000s
  • Iran: 853+
  • Saudi Arabia: 172
  • Somalia: 38+
  • United States: 24

The following are excerpts from the report related to Iran.



In Iran, the authorities intensified their use of the death penalty to instill fear in the population and tighten their grip on power in the aftermath of the “Women Life Freedom” uprising of September-December 2022. The 853 recorded executions were carried out across 30 of Iran’s 31 provinces: Alborz (177), Sistan and Baluchestan (67), Kerman (66), Fars (57), Esfahan (49), West Azerbaijan (46), Lorestan (42), South Khorasan (42), Hormozgān (35), Khorasan-e Razavi (32), Markazi (28), Hamedan (25), East Azerbaijan (21), Gilan (19), Kurdistan (18), Kermanshah (18), Ardabil (17), Khuzestan (16), Qazvin (12), Zanjan (12), Golestan (11), Qom (11), Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad (7), Ilam (7), Yazd (6), Mazandaran (5), Tehran (3), Semnan (2), North Khorasan (1) and Bushehr (1).

Among the 853 people executed in Iran were 821 men, 24 women and eight people whose gender was unknown. Of the executions recorded by Amnesty International, 481 were for drug-related offences; 292 for murder; 38 for the overly broad and vaguely worded charges of “enmity against God” (moharebeh) and/or “corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel-arz) and one for “armed rebellion against the state” (baghi); 22 for rape; two for “apostasy” and “insulting the Prophet of Islam” (sabbo al-nabi); one for “adultery”; and 16 for offences unknown to the organization.

The executions disproportionately impacted Iran’s Baluchi ethnic minority. The authorities executed at least 172 people – 166 men and six women – from the Baluchi minority, accounting for 20% of all executions even though they make up around 5% of Iran’s population. Baluchi people were executed across the country: 59 in Sistan and Baluchestan province, 31 in Kerman province, 24 in South Khorasan province, 16 in Khorasan-e Razavi province, 15 in Hormozgān province, eight in Esfahan province, five in Fars province, three in Yazd province, two in Alborz province, two in Golestan province, two in Hamedan province, two in Semnan province, one in Ardabil, one in Mazandaran province, and one in Qom province.

Of the 853 recorded executions, at least 520 (61%) followed verdicts by Revolutionary Courts, and at least 317 (37%) followed verdicts by criminal courts. In 16 cases, the specific courts issuing the death sentences were unknown. In November, the authorities executed Ghasem Abesteh and Ayoub Karimi, two men from Iran’s Kurdish Sunni minority, in Ghezel Hesar prison, Karaj, Alborz province. Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran had convicted and sentenced the men to death for “corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel-arz) and national security offences after a grossly unfair trial.

Amnesty International recorded the executions of five people who were children at the time of the crime: Adel Damani, Ali Najafi, Abdolsamad Shahuzehi, Hamidreza Azari and Mahmoud Rigi. Hamidreza Azari was still a child (17 years old) at the time of his execution. The authorities executed seven men in public, including two Afghan nationals who had been sentenced to death for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) and “corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz).

In one public execution that took place for rape in May 2023, videos broadcasting the execution on state media showed children present among the watching public. In December, the authorities executed a young woman – Samira Sabzian Fard – who was sentenced to death by a court in Tehran under the principle of qisas (“retribution in kind") in relation to the murder of the man she was forced to marry as a 15-year-old child.

Of the 853 recorded executions in Iran, at least 545 were unlawfully carried out for acts that should not result in the death penalty under international law, which prohibits the use of the death penalty for offences that do not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” involving intentional killing. This includes the 481 executions for drug-related offences which constituted 56% of the total executions recorded in 2023, an increase of 89% from 255 executions recorded in 2022 and more than tripled from 132 executions recorded in 2021. The surge reflects a lethal shift in Iran’s anti-narcotics policy since 2021 when Ebrahim Raisi became President and Gholamhossein Eje’i was appointed as Head of the Judiciary.

Of the 38 people recorded as having been executed for “enmity against God” (moharebeh) and/or “corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz) in 2023, over half were in connection with acts that should not result in the death penalty (because they did not involve intentional killing), including robbery, espionage, possession of arms, drawing weapons, and membership in Kurdish opposition groups. In nine other cases, these vague and broadly worded charges were brought in connection with incidents involving the death of an official.

Among those executed for “corruption on earth” (efsad-e fel arz) was Hassan Abyat, from Iran’s Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority. He had been sentenced to death in relation to the death of an agent from the paramilitary Basij force in 2011 and following an accusation of being a member of an “opposition group”. Hassan Abyat had denied any involvement in the agent’s death. The authorities executed him in secret in Sepidar prison, Khuzestan province, on 20 February 2023 without prior notice or final visit by his family. A Revolutionary Court used his forced “confessions”, believed to have been obtained under torture, to convict him and sentence him to death.

At least one man – Ahmad Nikoui – was executed for “adultery” on 29 April 2023 in Karaj central prison (Nedamatgah-e Karaj), Alborz province, for having consensual sexual relations with a married woman. The fate of the woman is unknown. Under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, the punishment for engaging in consensual extra-marital sexual relations is punishable by sanctions ranging from a flogging sentence of 31 lashes to the death penalty, applicable to adults and children including boys over 15 lunar years and girls over 9 lunar years.

The authorities also used the death penalty to punish people who had challenged or were perceived as having challenged the Islamic Republic establishment and its ideologies. The authorities executed at least seven people in connection with nationwide protests – six in connection with the “Woman Life Freedom” protests of September-December 2022 and one in connection with the nationwide protests of November 2019.