A number of human rights advocacy groups have issued warnings about an apparent increase in the rate of politically motivated executions in Iran, and the potential for more of the same. Numerous prior statements have focused on a general uptick in the country’s already world-leading execution rate, which has resulted in more than 850 death sentences being implemented in 2023 – an eight-year high. And although it is widely understood that that trend was largely motivated by the Iranian regime’s desire to stifle dissent through public intimidation following a nationwide uprising in September 2022, the latest developments suggest that Tehran may be growing bolder with its suppressive tactics.
One of the most recent executions was carried out on a young man on November 21, who was arrested during the protests that broke out in September 2022, in reaction to the killing of Mahsa Amini by “morality police” who objected to the arrangement of her mandatory hijab. Milad Zohrevand was officially held responsible for the death of a regime operative who was involved in efforts to suppress the demonstrations. But it remains unclear what, if any, evidence the judiciary had to support this conclusion, which may have been used as a pretense for execution of a political dissident.
Prior to Zohrevand, at least seven protesters were executed on similar grounds. The questionable nature of those convictions was underscored by the fact that multiple individuals were held legally responsible for the death of one security agent, without the judiciary making any effort to establish who actually carried out the act of killing. In fact, neither Zohrevand nor any of the others were convicted of murder. Instead, vaguely-defined involvement in the relevant deaths was cited as evidence that they were guilty of the equally vaguely-defined capital crimes known as “enmity against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”
Zohrevand’s execution did not strictly come as a surprise to human rights defenders or observers of Iranian affairs, though its precise timing was not expected. Many commentators anticipated that Tehran would execute more protesters in time, despite the first seven examples being confined to December 2022 and January 2023. It was generally understood that dozens of other protesters were facing death sentences but also that Iranian authorities were biding their time before implementation, on account of strong international scrutiny of human rights issues in the wake of the uprising.
It is not obvious what prompted the regime to abandon its sense of caution, but one contributing factor may be a perception that the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas is an effective distraction from issues in the surrounding region. It is also possible that Tehran is banking on its foreign adversaries being unwilling to stoke further tensions which could cause the conflict to spill out beyond its current boundaries. Iran is already involved in the regional conflict through its proxy forces, which have launched attacks against the regime’s adversaries.
Whatever the details of Tehran’s decision-making process may be, the effect is that the judiciary is moving ahead not only with executions stemming from the 2022 uprising but also with those that target other forms of dissent, and those that violate other international standards regarding capital punishment and human rights. Also the Islamic Republic has reportedly executed at least three men for their participation in another nationwide uprising, in November 2019. No such executions had been carried out in the previous three years, but much like with the 2022 uprising, it was widely understood that persons detained during it had remained at risk of much greater punishment.
The regime’s immediate reaction to the 2019 uprising was some of the worst repression in the history of the Islamic Republic. Approximately 1,500 people were killed in mass shooting incidents in various localities, mostly at the hands of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The 2022 uprising saw the fatal shooting or beating of around 750 people, with a further 30,000 being arrested and placed at risk of subsequent violence as well as capital punishment.
The recent spate of executions indicates that for participants in either uprising, or for political dissidents in general, this threat persists for as long as they remain within the grip of regime authorities. One of the participants in the 2019 uprising, Gholam Rasoul Heydari, was hanged on November 22 with little warning, despite the fact that he had formally been sentenced to life in prison and not to death.
Somewhat similarly, on November 25, the judiciary executed 62-year-old Ali Saber Motlagh after he had already served a lengthy prison sentence and been released, before being arbitrarily arrested again in 2020 and ultimately held responsible for the 1981 killing of a security agent. Persons familiar with his case believe that the only genuine motive for the execution was Saber Motlagh’s alleged connection to the main democratic opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, which made his death a potentially powerful symbol of escalating crackdowns on organized dissent.
Saber-Motlagh’s execution also coincided closely with another instance of arbitrary re-arrest, which in turn recalled attention to the frequent lack of due process in the Islamic Republic, especially in politically-motivated cases.
It is little wonder that human rights organizations have reported upon the absence of legal representation in the cases involving several of the people who have been executed in recent days. As is also typical of politically motivated cases in the Islamic Republic, many if not all of the defendants were convicted, in whole or in part, on the basis of apparently false confessions that were extracted via torture.
Naturally, this sort of legal malpractice aids the Iranian regime in securing not only death sentences but also a range of other punishments for political detainees. Just as naturally, the pace of implementation for these lesser sentences appears to be accelerating alongside the pace of executions. As one example, HRANA reported recently that five activists in Tehran had simultaneously been sentenced to prison terms totaling 20 years for “assembly and collusion against national security.”
One of those defendants, Kamran Rezaie Far, had previously been sentenced to death, in a separate case, for “spreading corruption on Earth.” In light of other recent cases where executions were carried out abruptly and without a valid, current sentence to justify them, there is almost certainly a danger of that sentence being reinstated, whether formally or informally. If it were, the question on the minds of many human rights defenders would be what, if any, response the international community would give to such a clear violation of basic human rights principles.
Many such activists have already been critical of the international response to crackdowns on dissent following the Mahsa Amini uprising. And although Tehran has been loudly and almost universally condemned for crimes like execution of juvenile offender Hamidreza Azari, the regime evidently does not expect those statements to be backed up by genuine action. This is evidenced by the fact that the judiciary proceeded to execute another juvenile offender, Adel Damani.
Source » iranfocus