For a third year running, Amnesty International's annual report on the death penalty notes an alarming surge in the number of executions worldwide—now reaching the highest total since 1989. At least 1,634 people were executed in 2015, a rise of more than 50% over the previous year. Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were leading the field, responsible for 89% of the executions. Iran executed at least 977 in 2015—the vast majority for drug-related crimes—compared with 743 in 2014. Those put to death included at least four who were under 18 at the time of the crime—which Amnesty called a violation of international law. Pakistan continued what Amnesty called as a "state-sanctioned killing spree" that began when a moratorium on civilian executions was lifted in December 2014. Pakistan sent at least 326 to the gallows last year, the highest annual total Amnesty has recorded for that country. Executions in Saudi Arabia rose by 76%, with at least 158 people put to death, Amnesty said. Most were beheaded, with the bodies often displayed in public.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) test-fired several ballistic missiles on March 8, state television said, threatening the nuclear deal that just took effect earlier this year. A state television report showed a Emad missile, Iran's most advanced model, being fired from a fortified underground silo at night time. The presenter said it was a medium-range Qiam-1 missile. However, that footage appeared to be of an earlier October launch that triggered new US sanctions. The report said the Guards had fired several missiles from silos across the country, though it only showed footage of one.
An Iranian appeals court sentenced filmmaker Keywan Karimi to one year in prison for "insulting sanctities" on Jan. 22, reducing his initial sentence of six years. The sentence resulted from Karimi's film focusing on political graffiti in Iran since the 1979 Revolution. Iran has recently cracked down on freedom of expression, harshly punishing journalists and artists. Citizens have been forced to flee the country in order to avoid unjust prison sentences. In June, one artist was sentenced to nearly 13 years for depicting Iranian parliament members as animals to criticize a draft law. Karimi plans to remain in the country and serve his sentence.
Amnesty International (AI) released a report (PDF) Jan. 26 on the many juvenile offenders on death row in Iran. The report states that 73 executions of juvenile offenders took place between 2005 and 2015 and that 160 juvenile offenders are currently on death row. Iran ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and despite being legally obligated, has not, completely abolished the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders. Iran implemented a reform that allowed judges to use their discretion to impose "alternative punishments on juveniles convicted of capital crimes," but it has largely been used in order to deflect criticism of the state's appalling human rights record, the report states. Amnesty International hopes that Iranian authorities will comply with international human rights standards now that international sanctions have been lifted and the country is on the road to seek rapprochement with the international community.
Iran and the European Union formally confirmed Jan. 16 that Tehran has kept its commitments under the nuclear deal reached withe world powers in July. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the agreement at a press conference in Vienna, as the European Council issued a statement saying it has "lifted all economic and financial sanctions against Iran related to the nuclear program." In Washington, President Obama issued an executive order revoking sanctions on transactions by non-US citizens with the Central Bank of Iran and the National Iranian Oil Company. A White House official said Iran will have access to some $50 billion worth of assets that were frozen by the US. Iranian President Hassan Rohani tweeted: "Congrats on this glorious victory!" Average Iranians took to social media to express joy and relief at the lifting of sanctions and the easing of Iran's international isolation.
Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 after Saudi authorities executed a dissident Shi'ite cleric. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 men beheaded in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges, drawing condemnation from Iran and its allies in the region. Hundreds of al-Nimr's supporters also protested in his hometown of al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia's east, and in neighboring Bahrain, where police fired tear gas and birdshot. (NYT, AP, Jan. 2) Days before the Saudi executions, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran NCRI reported that Iranian authorities are preparing the mass execution of Sunni political prisoners in the Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) prison in Karaj, northwest of Tehran. At least 27 Sunni death-row political prisoners at Gohardasht have had their sentences upheld by Iran's Supreme Court. They have been charged with offenses including "acting against national security," "propaganda against the state," "spreading corruption on earth," and "moharabeh" (waging war against God).
The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), seeking autonomy for the Ahwazi Arab minority in Iran's southwest, held its third annual conference in Copenhagen last week—drawing attendance this time from George Sabra, former leader of the opposition Syrian National Council. Sabra told the conference, "What unites our two nations is our joint path and destiny in the struggle to gain our freedom and human dignity." ASMLA chairman Habib Jabor charged that "the mullahs' savage regime has enforced ethnocide policies against the Ahwazi Arab people and other non-Persian peoples... Several million Ahwazi Arabs are denied equal rights by the Iranian regime under a system of apartheid, defined as a deliberate policy of racial or ethnic segregation... [T]he international community's lack of reaction concerning the state of human rights in the Ahwaz region...has given the Iranian regime and its elite a right of life and death over entire communities. Ahwazi Arabs...are victimized, robbed and plundered because of their ethnicity."
Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."