No, Iran Isn’t “Worse” Than the Saudis

This is an argument that is doing the rounds on the Internet after Iran’s condemnation of the Saudi execution of 47 people (including at least 4 “politicals”) to mark the New Year and the ensuing breakdown in Iranian-Saudi diplomatic ties.

After all, they say, Iran executes a lot more people than the Saudis.



One example is Peter Tatchell, the British LGBT campaigner, whose ideas of promoting gay rights in the Middle East center around the toppling of its secular autocrats (the only significant political forces there who aren’t much interested in throwing homosexuals off the top of high buildings).

There are more than a few problems with such simplistic soundbytes.

The most obvious one is the difference in population: Iran – 77 million; Saudi Arabia – 29 million. Adjustment for capita values alone narrows the execution disparity from sixfold to just a bit more than twofold.

Second, and even more significantly, Iran is a considerably more criminalized society than Saudi Arabia. Its homicide rate of 3.9/100,000 is 5 times bigger than Saudi Arabia’s homicide rate of 0.8/100,000. Ipso facto, as states that both prescribe the death penalty for murder, Iran will have many more executions just on that account, by an order of magnitude or so. Since the world’s two largest developed democracies – the US and Japan – both have the death penalty for murder on the books, you can’t view this as uniquely barbaric.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran also has a massive heroin epidemic; by some measures, the world’s largest. By far the largest share of Iran’s executions are in fact related to drug trafficking. To be sure executing people for drug traficking might be viewed as overly draconian in liberal Western societies, but it is still not exceptional by developed world standards – as a matter of fact, Singapore’s drug traficking laws are if anything more hardline than Iran’s. In any case it is not political.

Here is a breakdown of Iranian executions in 2015 by type of crime according to a resource that tries to tally unregistered executions and is not friendly to Iran by any stretch of the imagination.


The vast majority of executions are for “normal” capital crimes like murder, armed robbery, rape, and drug traficking that are not atypical for tough law & order-type states. One guy was executed for corruption (“peculation”).

Of the 22 Iranian executions that touched on political matters, six of them were for “assassination,” and one was for “kidnapping,” so they can be reasonably excluded. Of the remaining 15 cases, one was marked “political,” and 14 were marked Moharebeh (“war against God”) of which 5 were for belonging to armed separatist groups. These are also the specific cases which make Iran truly distinct in a human rights sense from typical liberal democracies, which it shares in common with Saudi Arabia, and with which the figure of 47 executed in Saudi Arabia several days ago should actually legitimately be compared to.

This is not to imply that Iran is awesome, but it is important to keep things in perspective – no, Iran is not worse than Saudi Arabia from a human rights perspective when adjusted for demographic and criminological factors, and probably significantly better. And far more importantly, it has now largely ceased trying to export its deranged ideology to more civilized parts of the world, while Saudi funded madrassas and mosques promote hate from Luton to Lahore. It is necessary to repeat these things so long as they help to subvert the propaganda efforts of Western neocon elites who will be happy to grasp at any straw if it helps them bring down Assad.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Saudi Arabia’s homicide rate of 0.8/100,000.

    That’s very low. I wonder how trustworthy those figures are.

  2. Any theory about why Saudi crime rates are low?


    It always struck me as kind of silly that execution numbers are not compared as a percentage of population.

    But something else I never seemed to understand is why the death penalty is unacceptable to many liberals. The only logical argument against the death penalty that I can accept is when a country has a terrible and corrupt legal system that potentially sends many innocent people to death. An example of this is that many prisoners in China were executed because of various black market organ dealings made by the police. I don’t know how the Chinese legal system is today but this kind of thing was probably quite common 20 years ago.

    But lets say we have a state with very low corruption and a mature legal system. Singapore does come to mind. Why is it unacceptable for executions to be carried out then? Most Asians would probably also support keeping the death penalty if they did have an uncorrupt and mature legal system. Liberal hatred of executions is something I never quite understood.

  4. Anatoly Karlin says

    Not any particularly strong ones. I’m not an area expert.

    One hypothesis – socially, Iran is more modern and industrialized than Saudi Arabia, so perhaps fewer of the traditional social structures that curb crime have survived.

  5. Saudi Arabia has a non-trivial number of blacks and mulattoes. I don’t know their society. Maybe they’re all so sincerely religious that they hardly commit any crime. Or maybe the numbers were cooked.

  6. no reason to doubt.

  7. if Lynn’s numbers are to be believed their IQ is about 79.

  8. But something else I never seemed to understand is why the death penalty is unacceptable to many liberals.

    The answer lies in your comment itself. To many liberals, executing one innocent person is one too many. So why take the chance? Lifetime imprisonment at least offers the chance for a reprieve. And it’s impossible to devise a completely foolproof and incorruptible legal system; America doesn’t have that, Western European countries don’t have that, though they are miles better than the rest of the world.

  9. Why do you care so much about Assad?

    Just nuke the whole middle east or build a 6 kilometer wall around Europe to protect the hawayt race.

  10. Saudi crime is lower obviously because it’s the standard of living is far higher for most of it’s subjects.
    Unlike SA, Iran borders 3 failed states (Saudi border with Iraq is harsh impermeable desert, also SA funds ISIS anyways), was devastated by a 9 year war and has been an international pariah for 3 generations now. Not comparable.

  11. ” Ipse facto, as states that both proscribe the death penalty for murder, Iran will have many more executions just on that account, by an order of magnitude or so.”

    Two nitpicking points. First, I believe you meant to say “prescribe,” not “proscribe.” Otherwise, the sentence makes no sense at all. Secondly, I believe the Latin phrase is “ipso facto.”

    AK: Thanks for lending me your eagle eye!

  12. The state of Illinois did away with capital punishment some years ago because of the scandalous number of wrongful convictions of those who ended up on death row. It got to be just too much, one case after another popping up casting doubt on the entire process. People normally think that someone wouldn’t confess to crimes they didn’t commit but in fact forcing false confessions out of people is actually a regular occurrence. Prosecutorial corruption is surprisingly high; there’s many who would rather execute an innocent person than admit they convicted the wrong one. This is truer than most might think. As one anti-death penalty person who was somewhat conservative put it, there’s a lot of people who deserve to be shot but he didn’t think the state should be in the business of killing it’s citizens. The process too easily becomes corrupted.
    In Saudi Arabia one can be executed for sorcery, among other things. Also, I understand they have a good number of foreign domestic workers waiting to be executed, women from places such as Malaysia convicted on dubious grounds. It seems unlikely those domestic workers would actually be guilty of any heinous crimes. It doesn’t appear that they they have any real safeguards but just have some ignorant mullahs deciding that someone should die.

  13. Seamus Padraig says

    You’re exactly right, Anatoly. There is surely a moral distinction to be made between executing somebody for doing wrong, and executing them for criticizing the government’s wrongdoing. The death-penalty controversy is, in this case, mostly a red herring. It would still be wrong (at least in my singular world view!) to give someone a life sentence merely for a being a dissenter.

  14. Twice as high as Kuwait, same as Poland, German, Spain.

    China, UK & France are at 1.0

    It would be low for the Americas or Africa.
    And nobody is counting victims in Yemen.

    And then Iran has Heroin, the US crack and guns, Saudi doesn’t even have alcohol.

  15. James Miller says

    It might be because of all the freedoms they enjoy as subjects of the House of Saud reformers. Saudi citizens are probably so enamored of these freedoms that they’re too busy to perpetrate violent acts against their fellow (male) citizens; instead, they reserve violence for their female property and non-believers abroad.

  16. The State of Illinois effectively abolished Capital Punishment because the Governor at the time wanted to taint the jury pool in his inevitable upcoming corruption trial. This was later officially ratified by a later heavily Democratic legislature and DemocraticGovernor.

  17. Many maids in Saudi Arabia are in death row for the heinous crime of complaining about being abused and raped by their employers. It has become so bad that Indonesia (Malaysia is prosperous and doesn’t send its women overseas to work as domestic help) has banned its citizens from taking up work as maids in Saudi.

  18. OK, thanks for your input and clarification.

  19. Saudi Arabia

    Export fundie Muslim jihadist ideology and terrorism throughout the Muslim world.
    Play havok with the global economy with their oil price shenanigans.
    Human rights eyesore, though this is their business IMO.
    Unstable, ticking time bomb.


    Nuclear Program, though this is their business IMO.
    Supports Hezbollah.
    Allied with Russia and Syria, though this is their business IMO.

  20. Not any particularly strong ones. I’m not an area expert.

    One hypothesis – socially, Iran is more modern and industrialized than Saudi Arabia, so perhaps fewer of the traditional social structures that curb crime have survived.

    Sharia law means the legal system is in line with a hell of a lot of what the populace feels strongly about. It’s from God, or whatever. The law does not play in SA. They’ll chop your hand of ‘n’ sheit. The welfare state buys everyone off with freebies. I bet property crime is very low in SA for those two reasons. Stuff rarely jumps off over women because they’re all draped in cloth and escorted everywhere by male relatives. There’s a revenge culture, so people are going to get their pound of flesh if you harm them, though this is probably true in Iran as well. As Anatoly pointed out, Iran is more developed, which means more people living in cities, which means more anonymity and more crime.

    Carrot + stick + lower population density and more conservative culture.

    Iran is under sanctions, last I heard.

    The only logical argument against the death penalty

    I don’t trust gov’ts with irreversible punishments like the death penalty. Except maybe in well-documented cases where the evidence is ironclad, but it seems hinky to even trust gov’ts enough to make that decision.

  21. I don’t trust gov’ts with irreversible punishments like the death penalty.

    That’s indeed the key issue.

  22. if Lynn’s numbers are to be believed their IQ is about 79.

    According to Lynn the IQ of Saudi Arabia is 80, the IQ of Syria is 79 and the IQ of Mauritius is 89:

    This is the opposite of what the HBD narrative claims is “race realism”, Mauritius being 25% african and 68% indian (overwhelmingly low caste). While Syrians (and lebanese) are the whitest of the MENAs.

  23. Very nice work, I’m just wondering about that last bit–why do neocons care so much about bringing down Assad? What does it have to do with Israel?

  24. Assad’s allied with Iran, which Israel considers its main enemy.

  25. Anatoly Karlin says

    There is no uniform HBD narrative.

    Some are less sophisticated and some are more so. The latter which is what you’ll find on most of the popular HBD blogs take into account the relative prevalence of consanguineous marriage/inbreeding.

  26. There is no uniform HBD narrative.

    Proving that it is more wishful psuedo-science than objective hard science.