A Rise in Executions of Kurds and Baloch by Iran

By Hawzhin Azeez

A recent report by Hengaw, a Kurdish human rights organization documenting human rights violations by the Iranian regime, shows a concerning rise in executions of minorities such as Kurds, Baloch and Azeris by the government. The Iranian regime has historically relied on executions – often still held in public spaces in town and city squares – as a form of control and dominance of its citizens and to exhort its clerical-based rule and religious edicts on society.

Previously, Amendments in anti-narcotic laws back in 2017 had resulted in a reduction in executions by the regime. However, alarming trends are emerging following the mass ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadî’ (Women, Life, Freedom) protests that emerged in late 2022, which shows that minorities such as the Kurds and Baloch face disproportionate arrests, torture, and executions by the regime. By the end of 2022, the number of executions had increased by a horrifying 72% with at least 582 people put to death by the authorities. Experts observing the situation have declared their fear that well over a thousand could be executed by the end of 2023.

In fact, in the past 30 days a documented 142 detainees were executed across a number of Iranian prisons. The data is alarming, with about 9 prisoners being executed every two days. This number is the highest rate of executions in recent years and has promoted rising concern by human rights organizations. In mid-May, Human Rights Watch, produced a report citing concern about the increase in the executions by the regime. The report documented over 60 cases of executions in just two weeks. The report argued that “The Iranian authorities’ dramatic escalation of executions in recent weeks is a serious violation of the right to life and should bring international condemnation.” The UN also condemned what it called a “frighteningly high number of executions this year” by the regime.

More concerning, of the 129 people executed in May, a large portion have been Kurdish and Baloch people. 31 Baloch, 22 Kurds, 6 Afghans, and 9 Azeri prisoners have been executed, which constitutes 37% of those executed. According to Amnesty International, this year so far 173 people have been executed due to drug related charges, of which 20% have been Baloch people. The fact that the Baloch population makes up 5% of the overall Iranian population shows the high rates of execution and charges brought against the deeply oppressed minority group.

Furthermore, the details around which detainees have been executed are not clear. Days and weeks after the executions many families fear that their loved ones have been executed and buried without notice. The lack of clarity and refusal by the regime to release the names of the executed prisoners continues to add another layer of fear and terror on these communities.

Additionally, poor and underprivileged sectors of society – which again correlate to minorities such as Kurds and Baloch – are at higher risks of executions. According to Amnesty:

“It is mostly the poor and vulnerable who are impacted by the death penalty, as they are often unaware of their rights and cannot afford independent legal representation. Families of those executed frequently struggle with the dire economic consequences of losing breadwinners and being heavily indebted from legal fees.”

The prisoners executed for a number of reasons including political, drug related, murder, rape, corruption, and human trafficking charges. Many of the charges have been based on trumped up accusations, and unfair trials including the often present “blasphemy” charges used arbitrarily against detainees. In many of these cases lawyers or legal representatives are not provided or the courts appoint their own lawyers to represent the detainees, allowing them no choice in selecting their own legal counsel in “grossly unfair trials”. Many of the trials are also held in secret. ‘Confessions’ produced under torture and inhumane conditions are also relatively common.

Women and minors are also increasingly among the executed, promoting further concern by observers. According to human rights organizations girls as young as 9 years-old can be executed, while for boys its 15 years-old, with 73 minors executed between 2005-2015 alone. Minors on average spend 7 years on death row, with some waiting well over a decade. This is despite Iran having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Iran is also signatory to the Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which ensures that capital punishment should only be applied to the most extreme and “serious crimes”. Many of the cases of executions do not fit the legal definitions and criteria outlined by the convention. Executions for participating in protests or engaging in adultery or having social media posts have become common reasons for exactions highlighting the arbitrary and casual approach of the regime to executions.

According to Hangaw: “The most executions were recorded in Kerman prisons with 16 cases, Qezelhesar 14 cases, Rajaie Shahr 14 cases, Isfahan 11 cases, Bandar Abbas 10 cases, Rasht 9 cases, Khorramabad 8 cases, and Sanandaj 6 cases.” Many of the cases of executions are also held in secret and not officially announced, but emerge as a result of family members, lawyers, eyewitnesses and prison officials being present.

Experts and observers have argued that the increase rise in executions have been due to efforts by the regime to regain a semblance of authority following the popular uprisings which occurred in late 2022 after a Kurdish woman, Jina Amini was brutally murdered by the morality police. Thousands have been arrested and continue to languish in detention “amid horrific sexual violence and other torture allegations.”

Following these trends, it is highly likely that the number of executed is much higher than what is being reported and that executions will increase as the regime attempts to demonstrate more force.

What is more concerning is the evidence shows that the number of executions amongst ethnic minorities like the Kurds and Baloch people are increasing and doubling throughout occupied Eastern Kurdistan and West Balochistan. The number of executions have in fact doubled from 2020 and 2021 period, for instance. According to Amnesty International “Iran is the world’s second-most prolific executioner”, with numbers of executed likely to increase this year. The situation is worse for ethnic minorities such as the Kurds who only constitute 13% of the 80 million Iranian population yet comprise 55% of executions annually.


  • Hawzhin Azeez

    Dr. Hawzhin Azeez holds a PhD in political science and International Relations, from the University of Newcastle, Australia. She is currently Co-Director of The Kurdish Center for Studies (English branch) as well as the creator of The Middle Eastern Feminist. Previously she has taught at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS), as well as being a visiting scholar at their CGDS (Center for Gender and Development). She has worked closely with refugees and IDPs in Rojava while a member of the Kobane Reconstruction Board after its liberation from ISIS. Her areas of expertise include gender dynamics, post-conflict reconstruction and nation-building, democratic confederalism, and Kurdish studies.

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