Following the tragic death of 21-year-old old Mahsa Amini, who was beaten up in police custody for not wearing a ‘proper hijab,’ and the subsequent nationwide protests under the banner of “Woman, Life, Freedom,” the government responded with a severe crackdown. This crackdown resulted in the suppression of protestors, numerous fatalities, and the arrest of thousands across the country.
Since the beginning of the judicial proceedings for detained protesters during the nationwide protests of 2022 in Iran, at least 25 protesters have been sentenced to death, with seven of them already executed.
The executed protesters were primarily charged with offenses such as “waging war against God” and “corruption on earth.” They were often deprived of their right to choose a defense attorney during the trial proceedings. Alongside the hundreds of protesters killed or injured during these protests, thousands of individuals have been arrested, with many facing indictments that include charges of being “muhareb” (“fighter”), which is extremely dangerous under Iranian law, as it carries the risk of execution for those who are charged with this offense.
Farshid Kermani, a former lawyer in Iran who uses a pseudonym for safety reasons, emphasized in a phone conversation with Global Voices that the judiciary in Iran often relies on charges such as “waging war against God” and being labeled a muhareb. These charges stem from the subjective comprehension and interpretation of the Islamic faith by religious authorities, including Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Kermani emphasized that these charges are used as the basis for issuing and carrying out death sentences against protesters. He stated:
Any group or organization that partakes in armed rebellion against the Islamic government, along with all its members and supporters who possess knowledge of the group's stance and actively contribute to furthering its objectives, are deemed muhareb. This classification applies even if individuals themselves do not directly engage in combat activities.
However, Kermani also notes that a judge is not obligated to automatically impose a death sentence solely based on someone being considered a muhareb:
It is possible for an individual to be classified as muhareb without automatically receiving a death sentence. If an individual commits murder, then they may indeed be deserving of the death penalty. However, if their actions are confined to threats and intimidation, even if they carry the charge of muhareb, it does not necessarily justify imposing the death penalty.
Advocating draconian methods to deal with protestors
Just two days before the execution of Mohsen Shekari, the first protester to be executed in recent months, Khamenei referred to the protesters who obstructed the streets as “wounds.” He ominously suggested that if these wounds did not heal, they should be treated with a “fire heated red-hot iron.”
Tragically, Mohsen Shekari was executed on the grounds of blocking the street and injuring a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces.
The Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, established by Ayatollah Khomeini's students, released a statement endorsing the actions of the Islamic Republic's judiciary in executing protesters. In their statement, they urged judges to adopt even more resolute punitive measures by conducting additional executions, aiming to serve as a deterrent for other protesters.
A few months ago, during street protests in various cities across Iran, a statement signed by 227 members of parliament called for the judiciary to execute protesters, whom they labeled as muhareb and likened to “Islamic State members.” This inflammatory statement only fueled the anger among the protesters, further exacerbating the situation.
Those who, based on the law, should be executed for their actions and crimes, have been or will be executed without compromise and, of course, with justice and fairness.
Contrasting perspectives from within the Islamic institution
In stark contrast, other clerics have expressed their opposition to the court rulings, deeming them inconsistent with the principles of Islam and Islamic punishments. One of these voices is Sadegh Hosseini, a pseudonym used to protect their safety. Hosseini, a young cleric who studies in Qom, and currently delivers sermons and worships at a mosque in southern Tehran, shared his views calmly and respectfully during an interview with Global Voices in the mosque after the evening prayers.
We expect scholars these days to not remain silent in the face of oppression. At the very least, we should express that certain behaviors taking place are not acceptable to us. For instance, the loss of lives of several young men simply because they gathered in the streets or voiced slogans against someone.
Hosseini firmly believes that people perceive clerics as integral members of the Islamic government, and such antagonistic actions can further fuel animosity towards this group.
Amin Abedini, a legal scholar based in Tehran who adopts a pseudonym for safety reasons, joins a chorus of legal experts, lawyers, and judicial scholars in criticizing the “recklessness in issuing death sentences, which may also contradict reason and law.” In a personal interview with Global Voices, Abedini emphasized the grave mistakes and negligence associated with taking the lives of individuals, emphasizing that these actions “will not fade away from the pages of history.”
These harsh treatments of protesters, who are the children of this country, will not lead anywhere, and undoubtedly, this futile and unproductive cycle will persist. Such sentences only serve to intensify the anger among the citizens. However, it appears that the government has another motive for such actions, intending to silence its critics through the creation of intimidation.
According to the latest statistics from the Human Rights Organization of Iran, a total of 331 individuals have been executed in Iran in 2023 alone, including six women. Shockingly The Islamic Republic implemented the capital punishment on 7,316 individuals since 2010. In many cases, judges claimed to be adhering to Islamic law.
Human rights activists in Iran argue that execution is used as a “political tool.” Furthermore, more than half of the 582 Iranian citizens executed in 2022, following the commencement of the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement protests, were executed in the final three months of that year, signifying a 75 percent surge in the number of executions compared to 2021.
These observations suggest that authorities, supported by religious figures, are using executions to intimidate protesters in response to the tragic death of Mahsa Amini and the subsequent nationwide protests.
However, it is worth noting that within the Islamic institution, opposing perspectives have emerged, denouncing these court rulings as inconsistent with Islamic principles. These dissenting voices, along with legal experts, shed light on how politicians within the Islamic Republic system may manipulate religion to justify their actions or advance their objectives. Such concerns raise questions about the government's intentions and potential human rights violations.