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Iran Clerics Denounce "Foolish" Executions of Protesters, A Rare Critique Of Regime

In an unusual challenge to Iran's senior leaders from Shia clerics in the country, a group of theologians and jurists in Qom say the state has been incompetent and had no right to execute protesters. At least two Iranian demonstrators have been executed this month, with the latest publicly hanged on a crane.

Photo of an Iranian cleric speaking on the phone in Qom, Iran

Iranian clerics in Qom, Iran

Kayhan-London

TEHRAN — Following the recent hangings of at least two Iranian detainees charged with attacking state agents during Iran's ongoing mass protests, a group of well-known Shia clerics have publicly challenged the validity of the capital charges cited by prosecutors and the state's right to execute protesters.

The objections were raised by the Assembly of Qom Seminary Teachers and Researchers, a clerical grouping of reformist clerics well-respected among Muslim leaders even if they have little direct sway over the leadership. They questioned the very legal basis of the death sentences the state is keen to mete out with the backing of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The statement published earlier this week, was a very rare show of support for ordinary Iranians from anyone associated with the regime. Parliament has taken the side of authorities, and the only dissenting clerics have been from Sunni-inhabited districts, where the regime has been particularly harsh with protesters.


Authorities recently decided to double down on the anti-state protests that have swept Iran since mid-September, initially to denounce murderous police practices but very soon targeting the regime itself.

Waging war on God

The Iranian judiciary has executed two protesters Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard over the past 10 days on charges of "waging war on God." This, alongside "spreading corruption in the land," are the accusations facing dozens of detainees, and are usually reserved for the most violent criminals, drug traffickers, rapists or pedophiles.

Nothing will bring you closer to God's wrath than unjust bloodletting.

Supposedly rooted in the dictates of The Quran, critics have denounced the charges as spurious tools to justify the Iranian regime's eager use of executions.

The Qom Seminary Teachers (Majma'e modarresin va mohaqqeqin-e howze-ye elmie-ye qom) declared "Nothing will bring you closer to God's wrath and vengeance than unjust bloodletting," citing a saying attributed to the fourth Islamic caliph Ali, a venerated figure among Shias including, presumably, Iran's authorities.

Their statement was apparently written before the execution of the second detainee.

\u200bUndated photo of executed protester Mohsen Shekari

Undated photo of executed protester Mohsen Shekari

Wikimedia Commons

No proven terror intention

The Assembly declared that "the majority" of Iranians had reasons to be angry including "poverty, inflation, misery and inefficiency in the running of state affairs," and the state should be listening. Hangings, it stated, would just fuel "anger and hatred" and indicated the state's "ignorance of the public mood [and] indifference to the country's best interests." In addition, it stated, the "judicial process in these trials has failed to convince public opinion."

The Assembly took issue with the charge of "waging war on God," which "consists of drawing weapons to frighten the people and fight God and the prophet (Muhammad), and requires evidence of an intention to sow terror."

In Article 279 of Iran's penal code, it observed, the charge is defined as an armed attack on people's lives, property or families, and intended "to intimidate them in such a way as to cause insecurity." Either way, the clerics stated, it did not apply to protesters "resisting the violence" of state agents.

People have an "undeniable right" to protest against rulers and policies "that seem unfair."

The declaration reiterated that in line with current laws, protesters could not be declared enemies of God if there was no proven "intention" to intimidate society (typically, terrorist acts) and especially if firearms were not used.

People, it stated, had an "undeniable right" to protest against rulers and policies "that seem unfair." The Assembly warned that harsh penalties and preposterous charges will fuel public contempt for religion. It urged the judiciary to choose leniency instead, and contemplate releasing jailed protesters.

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