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Death penalty for murder charges: Qisas and forgiveness in Iran

7 Mar
Death penalty for murder charges: Qisas and forgiveness in Iran

Iran Human Rights (IHR); March 7, 2019: A part of the 11th Annual Report on the Death Penalty in Iran, by IHR, deals with Qisas.

Qisas refers to retribution in kind. Qisas death sentences have been retained for murder in the new Iranian Islamic Penal Code (IPC). As murder is specifically punished under qisas, the Penal Code of Iran does not specifically state that convicted murderers are subject to the death penalty but rather to “qisas” which means “retribution in kind” or retaliation. The State effectively puts the responsibility for executions for murder on the shoulders of the victim’s family. Qisas death sentences are also imposed for juvenile offenders as, according to Sharia, the age of criminal responsibility for girls is nine and for boys 15 lunar years. In addition, under the IPC, the death penalty is generally subject to the discriminatory application based on gender and religion.[1]


In addition to the inequality of citizens before the law, there are many reports on the violation of due process in qisas cases. Use of torture to extract confessions and hasty trials without sufficient time to conduct an independent investigation of the evidence are examples of such practice.  


Murder charges were the most common charge and qisas executions counted for the most common execution category in 2018.  Some facts about the qisas executions in 2018:


188 executed for qisas sentence (22% less than in 2017)
41 qisas executions were announced by the official sources (22%)
75 qisas executions were carried out in one prison
6 were juveniles (under 18 years of age) at the time of the offence
5 women among those executed
6 were hanged in public


Qisas executions since 2010


According to the IHR reports, there have been at least 1242 qisas executions (murder charges) between 2010 and 2018 with murder charges. The diagram below shows the trend of qisas executions in this period.

The number of qisas executions which was relatively low between 2010-2012 increased dramatically in 2013 and since then have remained relatively high. The increase in the number of qisas executions coincides with the increasing international criticism of Iran’s drug-related executions. In 2018, at least 188 people were subjected to qisas execution, 22% less than in 2017 but still among the highest in the last 9 years.


Rajai Shahr prison: A major site for qisas executions

 The detailed geographical distribution of the qisas executions will be provided under the section “Forgiveness movement” on page xxx[MRA1]  of this report. However, the reports in the last four years show that a significant portion of all qisas executions every year are carried out in one single prison in the Alborz/Tehran area. Rajai Shahr prison (previously known as Gohardasht) has in addition been the site of the execution of many political prisoners, especially those belonging to banned Kurdish political parties. In 2018, at least 75 qisas sentences were carried out in Rajai Shahr prison. This counts for 40% of the total executions and 27% of all executions for all charges in the country.

The diagram above shows the number of implemented qisas death sentences in Alborz/Tehran prisons since 2015. Rajai Shahr Prison (located in Alborz Province) is the prison where the qisas executions are implemented.


In a report published by IHR on the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, the last hours of a death row prisoner at the Rajai Shahr Prison is described.[2]

Mohammad Salas: Arrested under the Gonabadi Dervish protests- Executed on murder charges


Mohammad Salas, a member of the Gonabadi dervish community, was arrested and sentenced to death after the protests of the Gonabadi dervishes in February 2018. He was hanged at Rajai Shahr Prison on June 18, 2018. He was charged with the murder of three police officers by running over them by a bus.

Branch 9 of the Criminal Court of Tehran issued the verdict after less than two months of Mohammad Salas’s arrest while he wasn’t in touch with his lawyer during the first trial.

There are many facts proving that Mohammad Salas’ case was not processed justly or at least the required standards were not met. Several reports indicated that the Gonabadi dervish was tortured before and during the arrest and after his first trial.[3]

Mohammad Salas himself has denied the charges after his first trial and according to a family member he was subjected to ill-treatment resulting in a fracture of one of his fingers because of that.[4]


Following his execution, the authorities took his body away for burial to Borujerd, Lorestan Province, hundreds of kilometres from where his children and mother live, and despite their appeal to bury him in Tehran. The authorities buried his remains in Borujerd without his family present and with security forces standing guard. They also denied the family’s request that Mohammad Salas’ body be examined by a coroner to determine the injuries he incurred because of the torture to which he said he was subjected.


Few days after the execution, the authorities arrested Mohammad Salas’ attorney Zeynab Taheri.[5]



The Forgiveness Movement:

According to the Iranian Penal Code, murder is punished by qisas (retribution) where the family of the victim can demand a retribution death sentence. But they can also demand blood money (Diyya) instead of a death sentence or can simply grant forgiveness.


IHR has collected forgiveness reports since 2015. Altogether, the reports gathered in the past four years show that the families of murder victims who chose forgiveness or blood money for murder convicts outnumber those who chose the death penalty.[6]


For the sake of simplicity, we will use the term forgiveness in the following section, regardless of whether there has been a demand for blood money or not.


As for the execution numbers, not all forgiveness cases are announced by the Iranian media. Based on reports by the Iranian media and, to a lesser extent, through its own network inside Iran, IHR has identified 272 forgiveness cases in 2018, compared to 221 cases in 2017, 232 cases in 2016 and 262 cases in 2015. Thus, forgiveness trends are increasing. In 2018 the forgiveness cases outnumbered those of implemented qisas executions. The actual numbers for both forgiveness and qisas death sentences are believed to be higher. Reports indicate that the number of forgiveness cases might be several folds higher than the numbers presented in this report. For instance, on September 7, 2018, the Iranian State Broadcasting in Kerman, IRIB, announced that “500 qisas convicts were saved from execution due to forgiveness during the last Iranian last year (21 March 2017 to 20 March 2018)”.[7] IHR has reported 50 forgiveness cases in Kerman Province in 2017 and 2018. We are not certain about how accurate the report from IRIB is, but it indicates that the actual forgiveness numbers are much higher than reported here.

The following diagrams based on IHR reports show a comparison between the documented forgiveness and retribution trends in Iran.


Diagram showing the number of implemented retribution death sentences and forgiveness cases in 2017.


Qisas (Retribution) and Forgiveness: Monthly breakdown 

The diagram above shows the monthly breakdown of implemented qisas (retribution) death sentences compared to “forgiveness” cases.

Qisas and Forgiveness: Geographic distribution

In 2018, IHR recorded forgiveness cases in 26 of the 31 provinces in Iran. In comparison, qisas death sentences were reported from 29 of the provinces. In most provinces, the number of forgiveness cases was higher than qisas executions.

Diagram: Prisons in the Tehran and Karaj (Alborz) area were the sites of the highest number of both forgiveness and qisas cases in 2018 in Iran.


Qisas diagram in Alborz/Tehran:


Diagram: The number of implemented qisas executions was higher in 9 provinces compared, while in the rest of the provinces the forgiveness numbers were either equal or higher than qisas executions.


[1] Annual report on the death penalty in Iran- 2013, page 11.

[2] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/3512/

[3] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/06/iran-sufi-bus-driver-executed/

[4] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/3349/

[5] https://iranhr.net/en/articles/3353/

[6] https://iranwire.com/en/features/4581

[7] http://www.iribnews.ir/fa/print/2221044

 [MRA1]Will know the page number after the layout