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At least 22 protestors may face death penalty in Iran

As the Iranian judiciary sentences a protestor to death, at least 22 more are at risk
4 min read
14 November, 2022
Iranian judiciary officials ordered the first death penalty for an anti-government protestor, accusing at least 22 more with charges punishable with the death sentence.
Hung portraits of all political prisoners in Iran seen during the pro-Iranian women's rights demonstration in Marseille, France on 5 November 2022. [Getty]

For the detainees of the latest wave of demonstrations in Iran, it does not matter under which circumstances they were arrested or which law - if any - they had broken since the establishment vowed to punish some of them with the death penalty.

On 13 November, the ISNA news agency reported that the first death sentence was handed down to one of the detainees accused of setting a governmental building on fire and charged with Moharebeh and Fesad Fil Arz, meaning "waging war against God" and "spreading corruption on earth," respectively.

The data that The New Arab has collected shows that at least 22 persons arrested during the protests are now facing trial in Iran with charges punishable by the death sentence.

"The only thing that could save the arrestees from the death penalty is their luck," told TNA, a retired lawyer who asked not to be named, fearing reprisal from the regime. 

"The regime needs to execute some people to show its power in controlling the demonstrations, and they will do that," he added. 

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Anti-government demonstrations began in Iran when a 22-year-old Kurdish woman allegedly died in police custody for not following the country's strict dress code based on Islamic Sharia law.

Experts first warned that some detained protestors were at risk of receiving capital punishment when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander-in-chief Hossein Salami on 29 October warned that the powerful elite force would not tolerate more demonstrations. 

Salami's threats were followed by a 6 November statement signed by 227 legislators, demanding the judiciary to rapidly "carry out Qisas to punish the Moharebs" who were arrested.  

By mentioning Qisas, the parliament members, hand-picked by the establishment, referred to a Sharia law punishment which translates as 'retaliation in kind'. The MPs asked the judiciary to put the hanging rope around the detained protestors' necks to clarify it. 

"Since that moment, it's been clear that the government will stick to its already-practised strategy of spreading fear by executing some protestors. Accusations like Moharebeh are hard to be proved, but since these trials do not follow any regulation the judiciary system uses these charges easily," the lawyer explained.

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And then the confessions began. Since the beginning of November, the state-run and IRGC-affiliated media published videos showing the arrested demonstrators confessing they had attacked the paramilitary Basi or police forces.

The confessions, according to rights groups, were forced. 

A group of UN experts warned that "the Iranian criminal justice system also relies heavily on forced confessions extracted through torture and other forms of coercion and duress to prove guilt."

Mansoureh Mills, an Iran researcher at Amnesty International, explained to TNA that the detained protestors are deprived of their fundamental rights and under pressure for forced confessions.

"Given the Iranian authorities' well-documented patterns of producing and broadcasting coerced statements to cover up human rights violations, Amnesty International is concerned that such statements have been extracted under duress," Mills said.

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According to this expert, the Iranian authority is desperately trying to end the protests that rocked the country after Amini's death in police custody. Thousands of protestors have been arrested since mid-September, and many face potentially heavy sentences.

"We are extremely concerned about these detainees as we know they will be at risk of enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, unjust prosecution and unfair trials, and harsh prison sentences and other punishments such as the death penalty," Mills stressed.

"Protesters have been sentenced to death in the past, and the Iranian authorities are increasingly using the death penalty as a form of oppression to instil fear in the people of Iran," she added.

One of the internationally known cases of executions in an attempt to pour fear among dissidents occurred in September 2020 in Iran, when a national wrestling champion, Navid Afkari, was hung.

Afkari was accused of murdering a man during the 2018 anti-government protests. However, he rejected the accusations in court, saying he was tortured in police custody to make a false confession.

Farzad Kamangar, a Kurdish teacher, faced the same dynamic victim in 2010 when the establishment deployed all its forces to extinguish the last flames of the Green Movement.  

The government has not given the exact number of protestors arrested since mid-September, but it announced the trials of over 2,000 protestors. According to United Nations Rapporteur on Human Rights on Iran, Javaid Rehman, over 14,000 were arrested during the latest wave of demonstrations in Iran.