Sentences amplify fears that the Iranian state will use executions to suppress the demonstrations
WSJ’s Shelby Holliday breaks down the history and symbolism behind three key themes that have emerged from the recent protests in Iran. [Noah Friedman]
Iran sentenced three more protesters to death Wednesday, heightening fears that the government will resort to executions to intimidate Iranians from rallying against the country’s clerical leadership, as state media accused shooters of killing several civilians in the southern part of the country.
The three unidentified individuals were found guilty of corruption on earth or waging war against God for alleged offenses that included killing or injuring security forces, damaging public property and endangering national security, according to the judiciary’s news agency, Mizan.
Wednesday’s announcement brings the number of people sentenced to death in connection with the recent protests to at least five, according to judiciary statements, but scores more could be at risk of facing similar penalties.
On Wednesday evening, state media said two gunman on motorbikes shot at security forces with Kalashnikov rifles, killing five people.
“Following a call by the opposition and anti-revolution groups, armed terrorists took advantage of the [demonstrations] of some people and carried out a shooting,” state news agency IRNA said.
State media also broadcast footage from Izeh of what it said was an Islamic seminary set on fire by rioters. Iran has previously issued harsh punishments to protesters accused of disturbing public order or even terrorism. In late October, Iran blamed protesters for paving the way for a shooting in the southern city of Shiraz, in which 15 people were killed. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.
The fear that the state will use death sentences to quash protests is compounded by President Ebrahim Raisi’s history as a member of a panel that in the late 1980s condemned thousands of alleged dissidents to death following an eight-year war with Iraq. Amnesty International at the time called the decisions about which prisoners should be executed “arbitrary in the extreme.”
In late October, eight protesters were charged with crimes carrying the death penalty. Some 1,000 indictments have been issued in connection with the protests, with public trials expected in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court in “the coming days,” Tehran’s prosecutor said in late October.
Wednesday marked two months since the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in police detention after being arrested for allegedly breaching Iran’s strict Islamic dress code. Nationwide protests have ensued ever since, transforming from calls for the end of the mandatory headscarf, or hijab, to demands for the end of Islamic governance.
Protests continued on Wednesday. Shopkeepers across the country closed their stores on the second of a three-day strike, following street protests on Tuesday in the capital, Tehran, and the Kurdistan province where Ms. Amini was from.
Nearly 16,000 have been arrested since the beginning of the protests, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, which documents allegations of human-rights violations in Iran. It isn’t known how many remain in prison. At least 348 protesters have been killed in clashes with security forces, including 52 minors, according to HRANA.
One of the individuals sentenced Wednesday was accused of killing a police officer and injuring several others by running over them with his car, and was convicted of corruption on earth. Two others were convicted of waging war on God on charges connected with the stabbing of a security officer and torching of a government building in Pakdasht, and for blocking traffic and committing vandalism, respectively, Mizan news agency said.
Both charges are vaguely defined and have been used in the past to sentence dissidents to death. Iran has a history of sentencing dissidents in trials without due process, human-rights groups say, and has long been accused by Western countries and Iranian activists of using torture and violence to obtain confessions.
Following the 2009 Green Movement protests, which were prompted by accusations of election fraud, hundreds of protesters were put on trial. Several were executed for crimes ranging from killing police officers to rape, including at least one minor.
The recent death sentences follow a call by a majority of Iran’s parliamentarians this month for the judiciary to issue harsher and quicker sentences to protesters. The push amplified fears among activists that authorities would use Iran’s murky legal system to issue death sentences to try to quell protests. Among the arrested are at least two dozen lawyers, according to HRANA.
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