Iran Takes Hard Line Against Protests With Swift Second Execution

In the early hours of Monday, protester Majidreza Rahnavard was publicly hanged in the religious city of Mashhad, a clear sign of Iran’s intent to crack down on protests that have spread across the country in recent months.

Rahnavard, the second protester to be executed since the demonstrations began in mid-September, was sentenced to death less than a month after his arrest for the murder of two security officers, an unusually quick retribution for Iran’s normally slow.

“I was screaming at home thinking my children might be next,” said Leila, a 43-year-old cleaner living in the town of Karaj, west of the capital Tehran, at the time she heard about the hangings. “In our town, a murderer’s sentence was suspended for eight years until the victim’s family forgave him. How can these young men be hanged so quickly?

The country has been in the grip of protests since the death of mahsa aminia young Kurdish woman, in police custody for her alleged failure to observe the Islamic dress code.

At least 60 members of the security forces have been killed during the protests, according to the Javan daily affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Official figures put the death toll, including security personnel, at around 200. But Amnesty International says more than 300 protesters have been killed, including 44 children.

At least 20 other protesters face execution, according to Amnesty. Other protesters in prison awaiting trial on serious charges, which could result in a death sentence, reportedly include two rappers, a doctor, an actor and a footballer. In Iran, people can be executed if convicted of murder or drug trafficking. Thousands of anti-regime political activists were hanged in the late 1980s, but street protesters are rarely hanged.

A regime insider close to hardline forces said more hangings were likely. “We have to solve this crisis at home,” he said. “This [movement] should not expand. Some protesters can be shown hell but not pushed into hell. [won’t be hanged]. But those who have killed the security forces will definitely be executed.”

A Twitter post on a mobile phone about the execution of Majidreza Rahnavard

A Twitter post about the execution of Majidreza Rahnavard, announced by the Iranian authorities © AFP via Getty Images

With protesters calling for the overthrow of the Islamic republic and its replacement with a modern secular state, Tehran has made few concessions since the protests began. The law governing the use of the hijab has not changed, although in practice it has relaxed regulations and many women in Tehran no longer wear headscarves.

The willingness to execute two protesters underscores the fact that hardliners are in complete control of the Iranian state. Abbas Abdi, a reformist analyst, said: “The official message is hang and kill and that’s it.”

Iran’s judicial chief, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, said “it is an injustice to have mercy on those who have created insecurity for citizens with an effective role in the riots” and on those who “threaten companies and truckers.”

The first to be hanged was Mohsen Shekari, a 23-year-old protester, convicted of blocking a street in Tehran and stabbing a security officer. he was sentenced for moharebeh, or make war against God. Both he and Rahnavard made “confessions” on state media.

A video grab, purporting to show a protester placing an object at the entrance to the Khomeini Seminary in the Iranian city of Bushehr, before fleeing as it bursts into flames.
A video grab, reportedly showing a protester placing an object at the entrance to the Khomeini Seminary in the Iranian city of Bushehr, before fleeing when it bursts into flames © UGC/AFP via Getty Images

Some Iranian lawyers and clerics have questioned the speed with which the judiciary has handed down its verdicts. Others question the interpretation of the law.

Ayatollah Morteza Moqtadai, former head of the State Supreme Court, said the death penalty should only be applied in moharebeh cases if a person was murdered.

Iranians have campaigned on social media against the executions, but few have taken to the streets. Some European politicians have campaigned on behalf of jailed dissidents, including Toomaj Salehi, a rapper, and Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a national martial arts champion, to help prevent their execution. Karami has been convicted of killing a security officer.

Robabeh, a 50-year-old religious woman whose family is in the military, said the executions had increased social pressure on families like hers.

“It is the divine law that says that if you kill someone you are condemned to death. This does not mean that we are happy to see these executions. We also cry for the young people who lose their lives, but what is the alternative? she said. “I tremble every day when my children and my husband go out for fear that the opposition will kill them. . . Is that fair to us?

The authorities’ strategy may still prove counterproductive. Ali, a 40-year-old engineer who did not want his real name and current occupation published, fears more executions will follow.

“The only hope I have is when I see that the authorities are making more miscalculations and mistakes like these executions that can eventually help make that big change.”

For Leila, the fact that the Islamic Republic does not provide an economic future for young people is a mistake. “My son [18] until a few months ago I used to ask ‘am I going to find a job?’ but now she asks ‘am I going to survive?’ This is what is killing me,” she said.

“It’s like a war front when you’re wounded and you’re brought back for treatment, but you go back to the front. The protests will escalate again,” said Leila, who gave her sons her 18 gold bracelets to sell if she was arrested or killed during the demonstrations. “The Islamic republic is making even more enemies with these executions without a doubt.”

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