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Examining Iran’s Methods of Execution for Prisoners

The Islamic Republic of Iran is known globally for carrying out executions at an exceptionally high rate, including public hangings. Iran has faced widespread condemnation from human rights groups for the archaic, brutal nature of its capital punishment system. So how exactly does Iran put prisoners to death, and what methods sanctioned by the state are utilized? This comprehensive examination will uncover the disturbing details of execution practices in Iran’s notoriously harsh judicial system.

Overview of Capital Punishment Laws in Iran

The Islamic Penal Code of Iran prescribes execution as punishment for a wide range of crimes under the country’s strict interpretation of Sharia law.

Offenses punishable by death in Iran include:

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Child molestation
  • Drug trafficking
  • Human trafficking
  • Terrorism
  • Espionage
  • Treason
  • Adultery
  • Repeated instances of theft

Hanging is the most common method used in Iranian civilian executions. Firing squads are sometimes employed as well.

Unlike many nations where the death penalty is reserved for only the most heinous murders, Iran carries out frequent executions for morality crimes, non-violent offenses, and activities not considered capital crimes in most countries.

Juvenile offenders in Iran who commit capital crimes can legally be executed once they turn 18. Public hangings are routine, aimed at shaming the accused and deterring future crimes through fear.

Iran’s Disturbingly High Execution Numbers

After China, Iran executes the highest number of prisoners annually. Though official data is scarce, Iran is estimated to carry out between 250-500 executions per year.

At least 10,000 people have been officially executed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The true number including secret executions is likely much higher.

In proportion to Iran’s population, its execution rate is one of the highest on earth. Approximately 1 in every 1000 prisoners in Iran is executed, compared to 1 in every 30,000 in the United States.

Executions have surged since 2017 under hardline president Ebrahim Raisi, known internationally as “The Butcher” for his role presiding over thousands of prisoner deaths.

Iran has faced global calls to reform its use of capital punishment, which exceeds most nations. But Iranian officials defend their practices as in compliance with Islamic principles.

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Common Hanging Methods

There are three types of hanging typically used for Iranian civilian executions:

Short Drop Hanging

  • Prisoner stands on a stool with rope around neck.
  • When stool is kicked out, the fall’s short distance violently breaks the neck.
  • Death results from severed spinal cord causing asphyxiation.
  • Considered more painful and prolonged than other hanging methods.

Standard Drop Hanging

  • Noose and rope placed around neck while prisoner stands above trap door.
  • Trap door opens, leading to a roughly 5-6 foot drop.
  • Fall causes forceful neck break and cuts off air supply through rope constriction.
  • Loss of consciousness generally within 10-15 seconds if done correctly.

Long Drop Hanging

  • Used for heavier prisoners, the drop is calculated based on body weight.
  • Allows for head to rip off rather than neck break in obese prisoners.
  • Can cause near instant death when spinal cord separates from skull.
  • Considered the most “humane” hanging method.

Botched hangings occasionally occur, leading to decapitation or slow painful suffocation lasting several minutes. But most executions by hanging result in relatively quick deaths following the neck fracture.

Firing Squads Used Less Commonly

Compared to hanging, death by firing squad is rarely used for Iranian civilian executions. It is primarily reserved for certain types of prisoners:

  • Politicians and leaders convicted of treason.
  • Foreign nationals convicted of spying.
  • Drug kingpins and notorious crime bosses.
  • Prisoners whose crimes or status require additional humiliation/degradation as part of punishment.

The procedures involved in executions by firing squad include:

  • Prisoner is restrained standing against a post or wall.
  • A cloth is hung around their neck to absorb blood spray.
  • A team of 8 shooters takes aim, 7 with live rounds and 1 with a blank.
  • On command, all shooters fire at the prisoner’s heart simultaneously.
  • Military officers are required to ensure a coup de grace shot if the initial volley fails to kill the prisoner.
  • Doctors confirm time of death.

While not as prevalent as hangings, firing squads add diversity to Iran’s execution methods for certain high profile prisoners.

Public Executions Used to Set Examples

A distinctive and controversial aspect of Iran’s use of capital punishment is public executions. Instead of happening behind prison walls, hangings frequently occur outdoors before audiences of hundreds gathered in town squares or stadiums.

Supporters claim public executions serve the following purposes:

  • Harsher deterrent to potential criminals who witness the disturbing events firsthand.
  • Allowing victims’ families to observe justice being carried out.
  • Opportunity for prisoners to repent before assembled crowds.
  • Setting an example to reinforce Sharia law morals and ethics.

However, human rights organizations strongly condemn Iran’s public executions, arguing:

  • They normalize violence and a desensitize the public, especially children.
  • Glorification of capital punishment fosters a culture of revenge, not justice.
  • Prisoners are humiliated and degraded in front of mobs, violating human dignity.
  • Coerced confessions and repentance undermine fairness and due process.
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The United Nations has called on Iran to immediately end public executions. But Iranian officials have resisted, asserting it is their sovereign right to administer capital punishment however they see fit.

Controversial Cases Put Spotlight on Iran’s Executions

Several high profile executions in recent years have drawn greater scrutiny to Iran’s unrestrained use of the death penalty:

Wrestler Navid Afkari

  • A champion Greco-Roman wrestler who was executed in 2020 despite international protest. His conviction stemmed from participating in 2018 protests against government corruption. Global athletes and human rights groups condemned his hanging.

Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd

  • The government’s execution of this Iranian journalist and dissident in 2020 was decried by the Committee to Protect Journalists. He was hanged after a closed trial related to espionage charges.

Zahra Esmaili

  • A woman executed by hanging in 2021 for murdering her husband, despite questions about whether she acted in self-defense after suffering domestic abuse. The United Nations said her execution highlighted “serious concerns about due process and the rule of law” in Iran.

Alireza Shirmohammad Ali

  • In 2022, Iran carried out a rare public execution by hanging a man convicted of murder in a crowded square. Shirmohammad Ali’s trial was deemed unfair and his punishment inhuman by critics.

These cases exemplify the most alarming aspects of Iran’s rampant use of capital punishment – from juvenile executions, to hanging political dissidents and journalists, to public spectacles with coerced confessions. Ongoing scrutiny aims to pressure Iran into reforms.

Contrast With Other Major Execution Nations

To provide more context, it is illuminating to contrast Iran’s capital punishment practices and norms with other countries where executions are also legal and relatively common:


  • Carries out thousands of executions annually, more than all other nations combined. But China treats execution data as a state secret. Most happen behind closed doors.

United States

  • Primarily uses lethal injection. Executions occur within prison confines. Public hangings abolished in 1936. Strong precedent for appeals to avoid capital punishment.

Saudi Arabia

  • Applied Sharia law principles similar to Iran. But Saudi executions declined 85% from 2015-2020 due to increasing discretion with death penalty charges.


  • Before suspending capital punishment in 2021, Iraq had a high number of executions like Iran. But in contrast to Iran, Iraq was responsive to international human rights pressure and instituted reforms.


  • Has faced criticism from groups like Amnesty International over continually expanding offenses eligible for the death penalty. But Pakistan has not revived public hangings since ending the practice in 2008.
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This comparison shows that even among fellow active execution states, Iran remains an extreme outlier in its lack of transparency, due process, and use of public spectacles in capital punishment.


Iran’s controversial embrace of practices like public hangings and loose restrictions on capital punishment offenses fueled by a strict Sharia law interpretation results in an unusually high execution rate. Iran has resisted reform efforts and defends its sovereign right to continue executions by hanging, firing squad, and other means on Iranian soil.

But as more questionable cases emerge from Iran’s opaque judicial system of prisoners put to death despite shaky evidence, coerced confessions, and blatant human rights violations, the calls for positive change only grow louder. How Iran balances its religious conservatism with modern standards and ethics when it comes to capital punishment will remain the target of global scrutiny.

FAQ About Executions in Iran

What crime do most civilians get executed for in Iran?

Drug trafficking and murder are the most common charges. However, Iran also executes prisoners frequently for non-violent crimes like repeated theft, adultery, and political dissent.

Does Iran allow juvenile executions?

Yes, Iran is one of the few nations that still executes juvenile offenders once they turn 18 if they were under 18 when the crime occurred. This practice has been widely condemned.

How many people are executed annually in Iran?

While official data is scarce, human rights organizations estimate Iran executes between 250-500 prisoners per year, second only to China globally. The number of executions has increased since 2017.

Has Iran ever reformed its death penalty laws due to criticism?

No. Iran defends its use of capital punishment, including public hangings, as a sovereign right rooted in its interpretation of Islamic law. It has resisted calls to limit executions to only the most serious violent crimes.

What countries criticize Iran’s use of executions the most vocally?

The United States, many European nations, and human rights groups like Amnesty International frequently speak out against Iran’s high execution rates and brutal practices. But reform efforts have achieved little success so far.

Does Iran allow prisoners on death row to appeal their sentences?

Yes, but the appeals process is opaque and questionable. And it rarely leads to a sentence being overturned once confirmed by the Supreme Court, especially for morality crimes like adultery. Due process for capital punishment in Iran falls well below international standards.

Prison Inside Team

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