When it became clear that a young karate champion was facing imminent execution, Liberal MP Keith Wolahan wrote an urgent message to the Iranian embassy in Canberra.
“I pleaded for mercy to be shown,” he said.

“I was assured that that representation was passed back to Tehran.”

But it was not enough. Over the weekend Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, was hanged, alongside Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini.

“I was devastated for him, his family and also for the community. He was just a young man who had his whole future ahead of him, and it was snuffed out,” Mr Wolahan said.

Mr Karami and Mr Hosseini, 32, were accused of killing a member of the voluntary militia Basij.

Both men said they had been tortured into making false confessions after their involvement in protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in custody.The two young men were among 15 Iranians Mr Wolahan and his colleague Aaron Violi had “sponsored” as part of an international campaign, following in the footsteps of similar support shown by parliamentarians in Europe and New Zealand.The sponsorship campaign has no legal requirement attached to it, but aims to raise awareness of individual cases by putting a spotlight on some of the young people facing execution in Iran.

So far four people have been executed in connection with the protests, with at least six more sentenced to death in what Amnesty International has called “sham trials”.

The human rights group said Iranian officials were seeking the death penalty for a further 28 people.

Iranian Australian academic and activist Rana Dadpour said she had spoken to family members of the Iranians publicly backed by Australian politicians.

“These MPs that take the political sponsorship of these kids, it really makes us feel heard,” she said.”It’s also very heartwarming to the people themselves … it makes them also really hopeful and happy.

“We all know that it may not 100 per cent prevent executions or harsh sentences … but at the same time, it feels good to know that others are supporting the campaign.”

Ms Dadpour, who said she had taken part in protests in Iran in the past and had been arrested, said watching protesters be detained and killed was deeply impacting the Iranian community in Australia.

“It’s awful. Many of us feel like it’s choking us,” she said.”We feel helpless. They are like family members to us and we know they are innocent.”

She urged other politicians to add their voices to the campaign, saying that negative international publicity might make the Iranian regime respond.

“The only thing that may make them upset, or prevent them from doing what they are doing, is outside pressure, international pressure,” she said.
Fears for young men facing imminent execution

Independent MP Monique Ryan has publicly thrown her support behind Mohammad Boroughani, 19, and Mohammad Ghobadlou, 22. Both were convicted of “enmity against God”.Amnesty International has said it fears Mr Boroughani is in imminent danger because he has been moved into solitary confinement in preparation of execution.

“His ‘crime’ was participating in a protest and videoing it,” Dr Ryan said.

“I tell that regime that the world is watching and it will remember your actions.”

Local media reports said Mr Boroughani was accused of setting fire to a provincial government building and using a knife to injure an official on duty, while Mr Ghobadlou was accused of driving into a group of police during a protest, allegedly killing one.Dr Ryan said the young men faced very brief trials and were not represented by their chosen legal counsel, and that confessions were extracted in the context of “significant torture”.

Amnesty International’s Nikita White said it was concerning that Iran was executing people only weeks after they were charged.

“The fact that they have already executed four people in relation to these protests is a really concerning sign that they are willing to execute more,” she said.

“They’re willing to do whatever it takes to quell these protests.”Greens senator Jordon Steele-John wrote to the Iranian ambassador stating his political sponsorship for Majid Kazemi.

Independent Zoe Daniel has also expressed support for three Iranians: Fahimeh Karimi, a volleyball coach and mother of three; and twins Amir-Mehdi Rezaei and Erfan Rezaei, who are currently on bail but charged with offences carrying the death penalty.

Ms Daniel said she had received no reply after she wrote to the Iranian ambassador last month requesting information about their wellbeing.

“I am appalled that despite continuing and justified protests, the regime in Tehran persists in using executions in a naked attempt to suppress legitimate support for human rights in Iran,” she said.
Calls for Iranian diplomats to be expelled

Ms Dadpour said a key request from the Iranian diaspora was for Australia to join other democracies in listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation — a call echoed by Ms Daniel and Dr Ryan.

Dr Ryan added the government could also consider expelling Iranian diplomats and family members of senior Iranian officials in Australia.But there are some concerns that severing diplomatic channels and listing the IRGC as a terrorist group could be counter-productive.

Ms Dadpour and some MPs said they were grateful for targeted sanctions imposed on the Iranian regime and for Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s condemnation of the recent executions, but said more could be done.Senator Wong has called on Iran to “immediately cease all executions” and said Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said the government would “continue to make representations to Iran over its egregious human rights abuses and use of the death penalty”.

“The Australian government does not speculate on further sanctions, as this would risk undermining their effectiveness,” DFAT added.

Amnesty’s Ms White said the Australian government played a key role in establishing a fact-finding mission through the UN Human Rights Council last year, which would be an important mechanism for accountability for human rights abuses in Iran.

She said Iran was one of the worst countries for high numbers of executions, recording at least 314 in 2021, up from 246 in 2020.

Mr Wolahan said the death penalty and rushed legal processes in Iran were being used as a “weapon of fear”.

“These executions were rushed through in weeks and days. And that really says a lot about what the purpose behind them is, which is to intimidate the other protesters,” he said.Both he and Dr Ryan said they had been moved by the passion of Iranian protesters in Australia, and Mr Wolahan said he had one of the largest Iranian populations in his electorate.

“From the very first day that these protests started, I’ve just seen this uniform sense of sadness and frustration and a desire from the community for us to do more,” he said.

Dr Ryan said some young Iranian Australians had come to her office in tears.

“Sometimes it feels like it’s an abstract concept, but for these young Iranian-Australians, they know them. And they’re just so distressed. It’s a terrible situation.”