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Iran's Use Of Death Penalty Has Doubled, Targeting Protesters And Ethnic Minorities

Without drawing attention to public executions like it did last year, the regime has quietly continued to mete out capital punishment: increasing both death sentences and the carrying out of executions, on pace in 2023 to double from the previous year.

Photo of clashes between ​Iranian police and protestors on Tehran's Keshavrz Boulevard on Sept. 2022

Iranian protestors on Tehran's Keshavrz Boulevard on Sept. 2022

Ahmad Rafat

The tribunals of the Islamic Republic of Iran have accelerated the churning out of their specialty: death sentences. The latest were issued in the southwestern city of Ahwaz for six members of the local Arab minority and suspected separatists.

The defendants, named as Ali Majdam, Muhammad Reza Muqaddam, Moin Khanfari, Habib Deris, Adnan Gheibshahi and Salem Musawi, had been charged with terrorist activities in the Khuzestan province, in the southwest of the country, in the years 2018-2020, and may have been members of an Arab separatist group, the Harakat al-nidhal.

The group's former leader, Habib Asiud, an Iranian-Swedish dual national, was detained by Iranian agents in Istanbul in late October 2020 and is now on trial in Iran. He is likely to face a similar sentence.

Increasing death sentences

Tehran's Revolutionary Court has also issued a death sentence to Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian national and long-term U.S. resident, kidnapped in Dubai in (late July) 2020. His daughter Ghazaleh told Kayhan-London from California that she feared his execution in coming days, recalling the similar fate of another kidnapped journalist Ruhollah Zam, executed in December 2020.

The courts have separately confirmed death sentences for 14 (male) protesters.

Zam, an online activist who lived in Paris, had been "invited" to Iraq where he too was caught (in October) 2019 and taken to Tehran.

The courts have separately confirmed death sentences for 14 (male) protesters held in the course of the mass demonstrations that erupted in mid-September 2022.

Photo of the Tehran cityscape, shot through a fence

Looking over Tehran, Iran

Nahid V

Doubling executions, minorities targeted

More recently, the country's Supreme Court suspended death sentences given to five men, ordering retrials, though a reconfirmation of their sentences by a second court is entirely plausible.

Many of the dead were from Iran's ethnic minorities.

None of these cases respected the due process of law or defendants' basic rights. They could not select a defense attorney, for example. Their self-incriminating statements — leading to convictions for possibly fictitious crimes — were obtained under duress or even tortures that included, as some have claimed, receiving electric shocks, being whipped with cables, raped or threatened with the rape of relatives. Their filmed confessions — a favorite concoction of the Islamic Republic — are anything but legal.

The Abdolrahman Borumand Foundation, an NGO based in Washington DC, and Amnesty International, estimated together in early March 2023 that 94 people were executed in Iran in the first two months of 2023. This roughly doubled the number of executions for the same period in 2022.

Their report observed that many of the dead were from Iran's ethnic minorities (such as the Arabs, Baluchis or Kurds). Another NGO, the Baloch Activists Campaign, believes at least 179 Baluch Iranians were executed in 2022, while Iran Human Rights has put the number of executions in Iran in the first 11 months of 2022 at over 500. The figure was 333 for the same period in 2021.

International condemnation

The Islamic Republic is keen to execute "unknown" opponents before their cases garner publicity and subsequent campaigns to have them pardoned or freed. This was evident in the hangings of Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, two former protesters who were unknown before their sentences were reported.

The Islamic Republic's actions are not going entirely unnoticed. A February session of the UN Human Rights Council condemned its use of executions, and in contrast with the past, the motion voted by 52 countries was at the initiative of Latin American members that are usually neutral or complaisant toward Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdullahian was present at the vote. Another, albeit symbolic gesture made in protest at his government's despicable actions, was for numerous representatives to leave when Amir Abdollahian began to speak.

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Siege, The Eternally Flawed Instrument Of War

Over the past week, Gaza has been officially under siege, even if the roots have long been planted in the confined territory. Others may say that Israel itself has long felt under siege, surrounded by hostile nations. It's worth tracing the origins of this policy of war that targets entire populations, from Troy in ancient Greece to Leningrad in World War II.

image of people in smoke

Palestinians search the rubble of destroyed buildings as smoke fills the air following an Israeli strike in the Gaza strip

Domenico Quirico

Siege. The dictionary definition seems straightforward enough: a city, a castle, a structure fortified by walls, towers, bunkers, surrounded on all sides by the enemy who wants to assault it or force its surrender through hunger and desperation.

Gaza, as we speak, is an entire territory under siege, much like the cities of Leningrad by the Germans during World War II, or Paris during the Commune in the 19th century. The narrow strip of coastal land, 42 kilometers (26 miles) long, and 8 kilometers (4.9 miles) wide has long been lamented as an enormous 'open prison' — the siege imposed by Israeli authorities has turned it into a fortress, a bunker hosting more than two million people.

A siege, like any human endeavor, follows precise rules. It's a concerted operation, meticulously planned and executed with bureaucratic precision. The siege is stable, no longer a matter of sporadic attacks; it's a reality both more dreadful and simpler than one could imagine.

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