Iran’s government has spent months violently cracking down on protests gripping the country. Now it has started hanging people in public — an approach some demonstrators and experts see as a desperate attempt to crush the dissent that has posed an unprecedented challenge to the clerical regime.

The first known executions of people arrested over the monthslong protests prompted an outcry from Western governments and human rights activists, but they came as little surprise to those involved in the demonstrations or carefully watching them from afar.

“They want to create fear for the people who are involved,” Saeed, a business owner in his 30s from Tehran who is very active backing the protests on social media, told NBC News via voice note. Like all those interviewed for this story inside Iran, NBC News is only identifying him by his first name to avoid possible retaliation by the regime.

“They want to show the public that their actions will not go unpunished and that there are rules in the system,” he added, and so that “families stop their children from going out to protest.”

members of the pro-government Basij militia in the northeast city. Human rights groups and Western governments say Iran’s judicial system is based on sham trials behind closed doors.

A week earlier, Iran executed another man, Mohsen Shekari, for allegedly blocking a road in Tehran and stabbing a pro-government militia member who required stitches. Around a dozen others have been sentenced to death, according to human rights groups.

“The regime knows it is fighting for its life,” said Abbas Milani, the director of an Iranian studies program at Stanford University. In the past, the regime has been “busy simply containing” demonstrators, he added. “Now they need to put the fear in people’s hearts again.”

Executions by hanging are far from rare in Iran, which Amnesty International says put 314 people to death last year, the most in the world after China.

But many activists and analysts alike believe the Islamic Republic is currently using the death penalty as a way to terrify demonstrators into silence, after other attempts failed to quell the most significant wave of dissent since its founding revolution in 1979.

“This is very standard playbook by them; they have done this at previous protests” said Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at St. Andrews University in Scotland. But this time, “if anything, they are moving quicker now to execute protesters with sham trials that even their own side are criticizing.”

supporters, and reduce the risk of dissent in its ranks by showing it will deal severely with alleged crimes against members of the security forces and pro-government militia.

“It’s like they want to tell their security agents that, ‘See, we are not letting people get away with harming you in any way,’” Saeed said.

“Some members of the Basij and security forces have died and the regime thinks that it is their duty to take revenge,” said Tehran resident Yan, an aspiring filmmaker also in his 30s, who was also involved in the demonstrations. “Blood for blood, an eye for an eye, this is the mentality of the regime,” he added. “This means that for each and every one of their security forces who dies, they will be hanging a protester by the neck in retaliation.”

The executions have been met with a range of emotions among Iranians at home and abroad. “My sense is one of shock, resignation and enhanced determination,” Ansari said.

Saeed says he was so despondent when he heard about the first execution last week that he was lying in bed all morning unable to move. “I woke up in the morning and saw the news,” he said. “I sat still and silent in my bed for two hours and turned off my phone and went to sleep again from sheer sadness.”

That feeling soon turned to rage, he said, coupled with a renewed fearlessness about the prospect of being jailed by the regime, now that some had lost their lives.

“I must admit that I was afraid of being jailed before these executions, but now, I am thinking that I could tolerate it,” he said. “There is no gray area left anymore” between the protesters and authorities, he added. “Either you are with the people on the side of justice or against them on the side of cruelty.”

Many people are terrified by the executions, but Saeed noted that with fear comes unpredictability, which he says is a potential danger for the regime. “Angry and scared is much more dangerous than just angry, and that is how people feel,” he added. “When you are scared and angry, you do things that are unexpected.”

nationwide strike earlier this month saw daily life across this nation of 85 million grind to a halt, and there has been a push on social media for another strike this week.

In all, at least 475 people have been killed and 18,000 others arrested, according to the Washington area-based watchdog group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Iran’s Interior Ministry said earlier this month the death toll was 200, including security forces who were killed.

“The Iranian authorities are adamant on continuing their killing spree, both on the streets and through sham trials,” Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement after Shekari’s execution. “The clear aim is to instill fear among the public in a desperate attempt to cling to power and end the popular uprising.”

Amnesty has tallied 12 people it says are facing the death penalty related to the protests, and another five who are facing trial or have been charged with crimes carrying the death penalty. Rahnavard was the sixth.

But even if the judicial killings continue, many of those involved in the uprising say they will remain undeterred.

“Revolutions have consequences, and we need to pay the price for freedom,” Yan said. “Unfortunately, that sometimes means losing lives.”

Source » nbcnews