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'Staggering toll': Iran executed nearly 700 in first half of 2015, report says

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Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP

(Read caption) In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader on Saturday, July 18, 2015, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers his sermon during the Eid al-Fitr prayer at the Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque in Tehran, Iran.

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In 2014, Iran topped the list as the world’s most frequent executioner. And according to a recent Amnesty International report, it seems this year’s numbers will quickly surpass that of last year.

Iranian authorities are believed to have executed 694 people in the first half of 2015, an ‘unprecedented spike’ in executions across the country, Amnesty reports. 

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“Iran’s staggering execution toll for the first half of this year paints a sinister picture of the machinery of the state carrying out premeditated, judicially-sanctioned killings on a mass scale,” wrote Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

“If Iran’s authorities maintain this horrifying execution rate, we are likely to see more than 1,000 state-sanctioned deaths by the year’s end.”

Three countries have abolished the death penalty this year, making a total of 140 worldwide that currently reject its use in law or practice, Amnesty reports.

Yet in Iran, authorities neglected the established tradition of prohibiting executions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and executed at least four people over the past month.

Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations special rapporteur in charge of investigating rights abuses in Iran, told the Guardian, “Rouhani made a number of election pledges which included ending the sanctions regime, but also a number of human rights promises. He was preoccupied with the nuclear file; he now should focus on human rights." 

According to Mr. Shaheed, Iran’s hardline judiciary and intelligence apparatus administer most of the country’s abuses and act separately from the government.

They order death sentences for “vaguely worded or overly broad offences, or acts that should not be criminalized at all, let alone attract the death penalty,” reports Amnesty International.

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“Trials in Iran are deeply flawed, detainees are often denied access to lawyers in the investigative stage, and there are inadequate procedures for appeal, pardon and commutation,” the report reads. 

The majority of those executed in 2015 were convicted on drug charges, thanks to an anti-narcotics law that issues mandatory death sentences for a variety of drug-related offenses.

But according to Amnesty International, the statute violates international law, which restricts the use of the death penalty to only the “most serious crimes” – those involving intentional killing.

Though Iran’s track record has reached new heights, a separate Amnesty International report shows a slow decline in executions worldwide. 

In 2014, at least 22 countries carried out executions, but only three of them – Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – were responsible for 72 percent of the 607 recorded deaths. 

The US is the only country in the Americas where the death penalty is still used. But executions dropped from 39 to 35 between 2013 and 2014, reaching the lowest number the country has seen in 20 years, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

In May, Nebraska joined 18 other states that have abolished the death penalty. And as of March 2015, 99 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, says Amnesty.

Speaking at an event on implementing a moratorium on the death penalty last year, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the punishment “has no place in the 21st century.”

“Together, we can finally end this cruel and inhumane practice everywhere around the world,” he said.