Executions in Iran and the US: Irish Times view on capital punishment

It has not been a good month for those on death row internationally

The hanging on Saturday of dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam was particularly egregious, even by Iran’s appalling standards. Tehran appears to have lured to Iraq and then abducted Zam, a refugee based in France, to carry out a death sentence imposed in absentia over his role in protests in 2017-’18 when he ran a popular social media channel.

Iran executes more people every year than any country other than China and the latest comes three months after that of wrestler Navid Afkari, who was convicted of killing an official during protests. That execution also caused widespread anger.

It has not been a good month for those on death row internationally. Breaking a 130-year tradition of pausing executions during a presidential transition, Donald Trump’s Justice Department has scheduled three more federal executions – with two carried out last week– before President-elect Joe Biden’s January 20th inauguration. Trump will have authorised 13 in all since July, a record that makes him the most prolific facilitator in more than a century. The president and attorney general, Bill Barr, revived federal executions last summer, after they had been largely on hold for two decades.

Yet the truth is that the US has been slowly losing its enthusiasm for capital punishment. A recent Gallup poll found that although a majority of Americans still favour executions for criminals convicted of murder, that support – at 55 per cent – is at its lowest point since 1972. In the past decade, 10 states have either abolished the death penalty or declared a moratorium on executions – a total of 22 states and the District of Columbia now eschew capital punishment.


Next year even Virginia, the state that historically has executed more than any other, will consider legislation to abolish death row. Texas, its modern-day rival as chief executioner, put to death three prisoners this year, down from a peak of 40 in 2000. It is to be hoped that the new presidency, publicly opposed to the death penalty, will reinforce that trend at federal level.