So far, the Iranian regime has carried out two death sentences a week apart, imposed on people who participated in national anti-government actions protests. Demonstrations are taking place in different parts of the country with varying intensity and have been going on for the fourth month.
The two executed men, Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, were in their twenties. The country’s Revolutionary Court accused Rahnavard of killing two members of the security forces with a knife and injuring four others. Shekari was accused of stabbing a member of the Basij militia and blocking a road.
Both men were convicted soon after their arrest of “moharebeh” – “waging war against God” – a crime under Iranian criminal law. Like “spreading corruption on Earth”, this crime can cover any threat to public order, with or without the use of a specific weapon. Merely “spreading lies” is enough to qualify as “corruption”. Most importantly, these two crimes allowed the revolutionary courts to quickly convict and impose the death sentence.
Revolutionary Courts and Consolidation of Power
In the case of Mohsen Shekari, simply holding a knife in the street was enough to sentence him to death. The judge said that in doing so he had “caused fear in the population”, explains Mahmoud Reza Amiri-Moghadam, director of the Oslo-based NGO Human rights in Iran. He also recalled another case that shows the frank arbitrariness of such decisions. “A few years ago,” he says, “a person close to [Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah] Khamenei’s circle used a revolver to shoot at a car after a car crash in the middle of the street. The court dropped all charges against him.”
However, the institution of revolutionary courts is criticized in Iranaccording to Germany Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). The paper reports that these latest death sentences have sparked a discussion about whether revolutionary courts should still exist, 43 years after the revolution. Lawyers argued that they were illegal and called for their removal.
Iran’s Chief Justice Gholam-Hossein Ejei rejected this request. His answer, quoted in DOES was: “Some people criticized the existence of the revolutionary courts as early as 1980, saying that after the victory of the revolution they were no longer needed. However, time has shown how effective and important they are to the revolution.”
An Iranian hacking group obtained documents from the Fars news agency showing that Iranian justice accused about 80 of those arrested of “waging war against God” or “spreading corruption on Earth.” The French newspaper The world writes that these documents show that the ultra-conservative parliamentary group “Coalition Council of the Forces of the Islamic Revolution” was already pushing for the imposition of as many death sentences as possible, even before the two young men were executed.
According to human rights organization Amnesty International (AI), in mid-December at least 26 people arrested in connection with the protests were in serious danger of being executed.
Reaction of the security apparatus
The Financial Times (FT) the newspaper quoted an unnamed regime insider close to the security apparatus as saying: “We need to resolve this crisis at home. [movement — FT] should not be expanded. Some protesters may be shown hell, but not pushed into it [i.e. won’t be hanged — FT]. But those who killed members of the security forces will definitely be executed.” The NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran says around 60 members of the security forces have been killed so far, as opposed to around 500 demonstrators. .
However, as is clear from the death sentences and executions handed down and carried out so far, no distinction is made between whether the accused actually killed members of the security forces themselves or merely participated in a demonstration during which security forces personnel were wounded or killed. Nor does it take into account the possibility that they were acting in self-defense or coming to someone’s aid. The maxim is that the dead security forces should be avenged without respecting the due process of the rule of law.
Leadership strategy under pressure
This approach has also been criticized in established Iranian circles. “Just like international voices, local voices can also contribute to increasing the political cost of executions,” says Mahmoud Amiri-Moghadam. International support is encouraging people in Iran to speak out, he says: “When there are so many criticism and attentionexecutions can lead to more anger and protests, which is the opposite of what the regime wants.” Because the purpose of executions is to instill fear to stop people from protesting and demanding real change.
And there is one more thing. “The international support because having protesters on death row also makes it less dangerous for the people of Iran to support those protesters,” says Amiri-Moghadam. Thus, the regime’s strategy of executing “faceless,” i.e., lesser-known opponents— like Mohsen Shekari—will fail.
This strategy has worked for the regime in the past, the human rights activist says. “In the 1980s, thousands of protesters and political opponents were executed by the same people who rule now. However, I think the situation today is very different. At the time, the regime still had considerable support in parts of society. Now they lack that support. Among the current protesters there are even people from those sections of society that have traditionally formed the core of the regime’s supporters.”
And something else has changed, he explains: attitudes toward the death penalty in general. “When the Iranian Organization for Human Rights started its work in 2005, the death penalty as such was not an issue that engaged people. In particular, the death penalty for non-political cases received no attention. Now that has changed. In 2020, a survey of more than 20,000 people in Iran was conducted. According to this survey, more than 70% of Iranians were either in favor of abolishing the death penalty completely, or agreed with it only in very serious cases, such as genocide . “
Iran, he says, probably has the largest movement to abolish the death penalty in the Middle East and West Asia. The founder of Iran Human Rights hopes that this bodes well for the future: “After this modeIran could be the first country in the Middle East to abolish the death penalty.
This article has been translated from German.
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