International media including Agence France Presse reported on Wednesday that an Iranian police officer, Jafar Javanmardi, had been sentenced to death over the killing of a protester during the country’s nationwide uprising in late 2022. The victim, Mehran Samak, expressed support for the anti-government protest movement on November 30 of that year by honking his vehicle’s horn to celebrate Iran’s national soccer team losing to the US at the World Cup. In direct response to that gesture, Javanmardi reportedly fired at least one blast of pellets from a shotgun, killing Samak.

Reports of Javanmardi’s sentencing did not make it clear whether or not he was the only officer involved in the incident. Neither did they specify what evidence the court used to ascertain that he alone was responsible for the killing. This is arguably noteworthy because since the end of 2022, a number of protesters have been held responsible for the deaths of security officials, only for questions to arise from defense attorneys and human rights advocates about the fairness of their trials and the veracity of the evidence used in securing convictions.

In many cases, that evidence included confessions that were alleged to have been elicited through torture, while courts have also been accused of suppressing evidence which pointed to the innocence of certain defendants. These practices have even been used to secure convictions for multiple individuals in connection with singular deaths. Dozens of individuals have reportedly been sentenced to death, with at least nine having been carried out so far, although the charges underlying those executions are not technically murder but rather “enmity against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.”

Javanmardi, on the other hand, was sentenced to death “in accordance with the Islamic law of retribution, known as the ‘qisas’ law, on the charge of premeditated murder,” according to a lawyer for Samak’s family. This indicates that unlawful killings by security forces and protest actions leading to injury or death are considered categorically different by Iran’s judiciary, even if the outcome is the same in certain cases.

Of course, the outcome rarely is the same, and Javanmardi’s death sentence appears to be unique. No other such sentence has been reported for police or other authorities in the 19 months since the uprising began. In fact, Javanmardi is one of very few officers to face any legal repercussions whatsoever for actions taken during the uprising, despite the fact that hundreds of protesters were killed in the streets and in detention facilities between September 2022 and the end of that year.

According to the leading pro-democracy opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, the number of fatalities quickly reached 750, while another 30,000 protesters were arrested. In its recent report, a fact-finding mission on the regime’s crackdown reported to the United Nations Human Rights Council that there were certainly over 550 protester deaths, and that authorities had deliberately aimed to cause permanent injury with practices such as firing pellets directly at people’s eyes.

Tehran has effectively confirmed the PMOI’s arrest estimate, but continues to deny the casualty figures from both it and the UNHRC.

The announcement of Javanmardi’s conviction and sentencing is likely a consequence of the concerns created among Iranian authorities by international attention to the fact-finding mission’s initial report. A death sentence for one abusive police officer may give the superficial impression of balance and impartiality in the regime’s response to the 2022 uprising. But of course that impression evaporates when Javanmardi’s case is put in context with all of the prosecutions of non-violent protesters and all of the abuse allegations which have been explicitly rejected by regime authorities.

This is not the first instance of those authorities seemingly asking the public to give them credit for protecting the rights of protesters. Soon after the nationwide protests began to calm down in early 2023, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei announced a broad offer of amnesty to persons who had been arrested during the uprising and had either already received prison sentences or were facing prosecution that could lead to multi-year terms. Iranian state media explicitly cited this as evidence of compassion and patience on the part of Iranian law enforcement, but activist groups were quick to raise doubts about the veracity Khamenei’s offer and the terms of detainees’ possible release.

These doubts were later validated by reports of amnesty recipients being made to sign letters of apology which effectively doubled as confessions to crimes in absence of prosecution. The letters also conveyed a promise to avoid similar activities in the future, thus providing a ready pretense for re-arrest in the event that former arrestees are found to still be advocating for political or social change. In recent months, as the regime’s crackdown on dissent has carried on, there have been a number of reports of amnesty recipients being detained and handed sentences that are clearly still related to the 2022 uprising.

Javanmardi’s death sentence may be intended to distract attention from this phenomenon and from the findings of the UNHRC’s fact-finding mission. But in absence of genuine transparency about his case and others like it, it is more likely that the condemned police officer will simply become a new focus of discussion about the regime’s penchant for politically-motivated sentencing, forced confessions, and scapegoating. This is especially likely in view of the fact that Javanmardi is not the only regime official or well-connected person to be conspicuously held accountable for broader malfeasance at times of political sensitivity for the regime.

Source » iranfocus