Utrecht-Tilburg researchers’ survey reveals Iranians’ attitudes toward the death penalty

Rechtsstaat Iran © iStockphoto.com/Rawf8
© iStockphoto.com/Rawf8

Iran is the country with the highest number of executions after China. GAMAAN, an institute run by Ammar Maleki (Tilburg University) and Pooyan Tamimi Arab (Utrecht University), conducted a survey in September 2020 amongst almost 20 thousand people living inside Iran regarding their attitude towards the death penalty in their country.

Death penalty in Iran

According to the Iranian penal code, a wide range of offences are punishable by the death penalty. The list includes murder, rape, armed robbery, possession and trafficking of narcotic drugs, espionage, economic corruption, affiliation with armed opposition groups, insulting the Prophet, blasphemy, same sex intercourse, adultery and being sentenced for drinking alcohol for the fourth time. Iran is also one of the last countries practicing the death penalty for offenses committed at under 18 years of age and organising public executions.  

Dr. Pooyan Tamimi Arab. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Dr Pooyan Tamimi Arab. Photo: Ed van Rijswijk

Approval rate

The survey shows that around 44% of the respondents resolutely oppose the death penalty, and 26% agree with the death penalty in unique cases only. The highest approval rate for the death penalty is for serial murder or massacre (qatl-i ‘ām) with 50% of the population agreeing with the death penalty for these crimes; 68% of the population, however, disagree with the statement that “the death penalty prevents crime and makes society safer” and 67% disagree that “the death penalty brings justice.”

Sharia Law

Only 14% of Iranians favour the death penalty as mandated by the Sharia Law. More than 85% oppose the death penalty for crimes committed by persons under 18 years of age and 86% oppose the practice of public executions. The results provide evidence, said Pooyan Tamimi Arab, “for the assessment that Iranians largely disagree with the capital punishment as it is instrumentalized and justified by the Islamic Republic.”  

Measuring beliefs in a closed society

This study aimed to measure and document attitudes and opinions in a closed society, which cannot be obtained using conventional methods. Ammar Maleki explained: “In authoritarian countries where people are frightened to speak the truth, the leading survey methods mislead. The anonymity of the Internet offers new measuring opportunities as Internet penetration is growing relentlessly across the world.” To reduce bias, the survey was spread through individuals as well as social media groups, channels, and pages representing radically diverse social layers of society and political perspectives.


This study was commissioned by Iran Human Rights (IHR) and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (WCADP).