Prison Atlas
Published in

Prison Atlas

A Statistical Study of Political Court Cases in Iran: 2020, Quarter 2

The Iran Prison Atlas (IPA) has documented Iran’s abuses of political prisoners for most of the last decade. This report highlights political prisoner trends for the second quarter of 2020.


In the past few years, the IPA has worked on collecting, verifying, documenting, and publishing information on political prisoners. The charts below include data on citizens who were arrested due to political reasons or reasons of beliefs during the second three months of 2020. Each of the individuals below fall into one of the following categories:

— individuals who were arrested and remained in detention for more than two weeks;

— individuals who received unsuspended prison or lash sentences;

— individuals who were arrested in order to carry out a previous sentence.

To learn more about IPA’s definition of a political prisoner, please read our methodology. Information related to releases was not included in this report.

When analyzing data, one should bear in mind that we don’t have the ability to access and document every single case of human rights violations. Two variables heavily influence the published information: the severity of repression in each region, and the human rights activists’ level of access to credible sources.

IPA has tried to present the data related to political prisoners by using various categories such as gender, ethnicity, religion, convictions, field of activity, the province where arrest took place, and organizational membership. We aim to offer a comprehensive picture of the condition of Iran’s political prisoners in the second quarter of 2020.

It should be stressed that there is no absolute and linear link between the number of political prisoners and the behavior of political and civic activists outside of prison because, in addition to activities of individuals and groups, other parameters, including the government’s behavior in each particular period of arrest and prison, makes a difference.

In the report, prisoners’ sentences have been documented on the assumption that Article 134 of the Islamic Penal Code will apply to them. In brief, Article 134 stipulates that if a prisoner is ultimately found guilty of multiple convictions, prisoners will only serve the larger term of the sentences. For instance, if someone is sentenced to five years in prison on the charge of “assembly and collusion for acting against national security” and to one year on the charge of “propaganda against the regime,” if Article 134 is applied, the prisoner will have to serve only five years. In such cases, the IPA documents the sentence as five years and the numbers in this report are based on such a calculation.

General Information on Iran’s Political Prisoners

In the second quarter of 2020, the Islamic Republic issued politically-based sentences for 173 of its citizens, executed prison sentences for 45 individuals, and arrested 46 others who spent more than two weeks in detention.

The fact that the number of those with sentences is four times that of those who spent more than two weeks in detention shows that the judicial machinery is going over the cases of previous quarters, especially those connected with the November 2019 protests; and that it is speedily issuing sentences. At the same time, due to the vast repression in Iranian society in 2019, some activities have decreased, which also explains why there is only one arrest for every four issued sentences.

In the second quarter of 2020, the Islamic Republic’s judiciary sentenced 173 opponents and critics of the government to a total of 478 years and 6 months in prison, performed 4 executions, 4 exiles, 440 lashes, and 7 individuals were sentenced to pay fines. Considering only prison sentences, this comes to an average of about 2 years and 9 months in prison for each opponent or critic of the government.

On June 30, 2020 it was reported that the journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was kidnapped in Iraq by IRGC forces, had been sentenced to death. The sentence was issued by Abolqasem Salavati, the infamous judge of the Iranian regime. Based on IPA data, at least 26% of the political cases in Tehran’s revolutionary court are decided by this judge.

Over the last three months, the Islamic Republic confirmed the death sentences of three participants in the November 2019 protests. After a massive domestic and international reaction, the execution was put on hold and the case was sent to court again.

The Islamic Republic has also sentenced 7 dissident citizens to a total of 440 blows of the lash.

Sentences in Brief

Basic sentencing information for 2020, quarter 2.

In the second quarter of 2020, 36 people were arrested in order to begin their prison sentences — reaching a combined total of 89 years and 8 months in prison. That means the average dissident sent to prison at this time has to spend an average of 2 years and 6 months of their life behind bars.

In the second quarter of 2020, the Islamic Republic executed Hedayat Abdollahpour, Abdolvaset Dahani, and Mostafa Salimi.

It is possible that the increase in execution sentences is a tactical approach of the Iranian judiciary to suppress society, which is presently volatile due to political and economic problems, as well as increased weariness from living under an unstable ideological regime.

In this period, it was reported that Khalil Moradi, a Kurdish political prisoner, was tortured and killed in the intelligence ministry’s detention center in Kermanshah. On June 18, 2020, his body was returned to his family.

Gender Details of Iranian Political Prisoners

Of the 264 cases reviewed here, 220 (82%) were men and 48 (18%) were women. This is still a drastic increase in the ratio of women who have been arrested, which during the 2016–2018 period was about one woman to every nine men.

Gender Makeup and Sentencing Details of Male and Female Political Prisoners in Iran

Gender makeup and sentencing details of political prisoners in Iran, 2020 quarter 2.

In this period, 17 men and 6 women were released from prison after receiving amnesty, and at least 13 men and 9 women were returned to prison from temporary leave.

Religious Details of Iranian Political Prisoners

Religious identity of Iranian political prisoners for the second quarter of 2020.

As mentioned in the IPA’s methodology, our researchers, when not sure about someone’s religion or ethnicity, might register the person’s likely religion or ethnicity based on his or her geographical position and other known facts. This means that our statistics on religion and ethnicity are, to a large degree, based on estimates. Additionally, since the personal or family faith of non-Shia individuals are usually mentioned in reports, most of those whose religion is registered as ‘unknown’ are either Shia or were born in Shia families. Also, most of those whose ethnic belonging is unidentified are likely Persian, Turkic or, in some cases, Lor.

Ethnic Details of Iranian Political Prisoners

Ethnic identities of Iranian political prisoners, 2020 quarter 1.

One of the significant statistics of the second quarter of 2020 is the increase in cases of political prisoners who belong to the Persian ethnic group. While the number of Persian political prisoners in the last quarter was 27, in this quarter there were 72 cases of Persian political prisoners.

Ethnic identities of Iranian political prisoners, 2020 quarter 2.

In the second quarter of 2020, 29% of all studied cases were Kurds (8% less than the first quarter,) but proportionally Kurdish cases still outnumber those of other minorities. Furthermore, 3 Kurdish political prisoners were executed in this quarter.

As stated in the previous report, the systematic repression of Kurds in Iran, irrespective of the conditions of domestic and foreign forces, has become a constant in the strategic apparatus of the Islamic Republic.

Field of Activity for Those Arrested

When cases are divided based on field of activity, we can see a significant reduction of religious repression compared to other forms of repression. In the Persian calendar years 1395 to 1397 (March 2016 to March 2018), more than 30% of political and belief cases registered in the IPA were religious cases, compared to almost 19% in the second quarter of 2020.

Field of activity for which activists were arrested.

These numbers imply that either religion is losing its place as a key avenue for social participation in Iran and citizens are more engaged in secular activities; or because the society has become more political, the government has made a tactical decision to reduce the repression against minorities and religious dissidents and refuse to open a new front against them.

Additionally, the pie chart below can be interpreted as showing the following: The judicial machinery of the Islamic Republic continues to be struggling with citizens who have entered into direct confrontation with the government. Since the activities of workers have taken on a completely political orientation in the past year, we could consider the workers’ cases to be part of the directly political cases as well. If we consider directly political cases to include those for workers, political party activities, women’s rights, human rights, street demonstrations and other political convictions and pro-democracy activities, they come to encompass more than 64% of the cases. Those cases that could be called indirect (i.e. those belonging to activities in journalism, arts, cyberspace, civic, ethnic and religious activity) encompass around 36% of cases. With such a categorization, we can conclude that the security-judicial machinery of the Islamic Republic has spent most of its resources on repressing groups that have directly challenged the government on political grounds.

What Can We Interpret from these Charges?

The number of charges made has increased from 169 in the first quarter of 2020 to 222 in the second quarter. Propaganda against the system (99 counts), membership in an illegal organization (38 counts), and assembly and collusion against national security (36 counts), were the most commonly issued charges in political cases.

The proportion of sentences issued based on the conviction of “membership in illegal political parties” (almost 17%) has increased compared to previous years. From these changes, we can interpret that:

1. The security system has increased the number of charges in political cases; and:

2. Either the political struggles inside the country are becoming more organized than before, which is why the charge of “membership in illegal political parties” is used more frequently as a basis for issuing sentences; and/or:

3. The judicial authorities consider membership in messaging apps as “membership in illegal political parties (groups)” and an increased use of the applications has led to a rise in such convictions.

Political and Belief Criminal Cases by Province

Percentage of cases of political prisoners which were cited for charges due to their political or religious beliefs, by province.

The pie chart above shows political and belief cases divided by province. Just as in the past, an increasing number of human rights reports are from Tehran followed by West Azerbaijan and Kurdistan provinces.

For more information or to learn more about the cases of political prisoners in Iran, visit



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
United for Iran

United for Iran


United for Iran is an independent nonprofit based in the San Francisco Bay Area working for human rights and civil liberties in Iran.