Who is sentenced to lashings in Iran and why

Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer in Iran, received a sentence in March of 74 lashes for “appearing without a headscarf in public” and another 74 lashes for “publishing false information to disturb public minds.”

“This particular case really was barbaric,” U.S. Department of State deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said when asked about Sotoudeh’s sentence. The lashing sentences are in addition to her prison sentence of 33 years for peacefully defending women convicted of removing their headscarves in public.

Sotoudeh is among hundreds of Iranians who have received lashing sentences in Iran in recent months.

Infographic depicting actions that could be punished by lashing (State Dept./United Nations) (Photo © Hossein Esmaeli/AP Images)

More than 100 “offenses” are punishable by lashing, according to Iran’s penal code. These include theft, assault, vandalism, blasphemy and violations of morality laws surrounding behavior that is normally not considered criminal in most countries, such as unmarried men and women holding hands or kissing in public.

Elham Ahmadi, an imprisoned member of Iran’s persecuted Sufi Gonabadi Order, received a sentence of 148 lashes in January for publicly speaking out against the lack of medical care for prisoners and the poor living conditions in Gharchak Prison. Iran’s penal code calls for 74 lashes each for “publishing falsehoods” and “insulting agents carrying out their duties.”

Flogging is considered a “lenient” punishment for crimes like adultery, where death by stoning is a possible sentence, or theft, which can lead to the amputation of limbs.

Lashing punishments are often carried out in public because Iranian authorities believe it will discourage further “immoral” behavior among citizens.

Iranians also can receive lashing sentences years after the perceived crime. Ten years after a teenager was caught drinking alcohol at a wedding reception, he received 80 lashes in public in accordance with Iran’s penal code.

The United Nations has declared lashing a cruel and inhumane punishment tantamount to torture, and it chastised Iran in its 2018 report for institutionalizing such brutality in the penal code, which also legalizes punishments such as amputation of limbs and blinding.