On May 8, two men were suddenly hanged by Iran’s theocrats in Arak prison—simply for running anti-religious and anti-theocratic online platforms (e.g., a Telegram channel called “Criticism of Superstition and Religion”). They were charged with “blasphemy” and “insulting the sacred.” This arbitrary and broad targeting of social media activists and critical thinkers poses a grave and imminent threat to ALL of Iran’s political prisoners.
As of May 12, Iran had executed at least 223 people so far in 2023—67 just in the prior two weeks, or one every six hours. In 2022, Iran reportedly executed 582 compared to the 332 in 2021. 1 As human rights activists point out this new “killing spree” is meant to “instill terror in people’s hearts and crush dissent.” 2 It also serves to exact revenge on the months-long uprising sparked by the state murder of Mahsa Jina Amini, and perhaps a warning from Iran’s shaken theocrats to the people that “you must never think of rising up again.”
Just two days after the murder of the above two prisoners of conscience by the Islamic Republic, the United Nations (UN) officially appointed Iran to chair the UN Human Rights Council’s Social Forum. Hillel Neuer from the group UN Watch tweeted: “This year's theme is technology and promotion of human rights; Iran just hanged Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare for using social media to criticize religion.” He called for opposition to Iran’s UN appointment which he deemed “an insult to the tens of thousands of victims beaten, brutalized, tortured, raped and murdered by this regime.”
The timing of this UN appointment objectively legitimizes Iran's brutal repression and the surge of executions. Many progressive people in the world had placed hopes on appealing to institutions such as the UN—and were perhaps dismayed if not shocked by this UN action. But it is a reality check and a reminder that the people of the world have our SHARED interests and that’s who we must rely on for justice. Putting our hopes on reactionary governments (e.g., US, UK, EU, etc.) or on reactionary institutions (e.g., UN) is an illusion that does not unleash the masses of people in struggle, but leads to confusion and demoralization.
On May 6, a Swedish-Iranian dual citizen and Arab activist, Habib Chaab, was executed after a sham trial without evidence that convicted him of masterminding a terrorist attack in 2018 (which ISIL claimed credit for). Arabs are one of the many oppressed minorities in Iran that are severely repressed. Then six Arab political prisoners, condemned earlier to the death penalty, were moved into solitary cells, a common precursor to execution.
The death penalty was also upheld on appeal for three protesters in Isfahan (see photo and caption below) from the Women, Life, Freedom (WLF) uprising who were convicted solely on the basis of forced confessions under severe torture. They have been moved into solitary cells, and state TV is airing videos of their forced confessions.
These egregious murders and threats on political prisoners are taking place in the context of a horrific surge in executions of so-called “common” prisoners, most of them convicted on drug-related charges and about 40 percent of them from the Kurdish and Balochi oppressed nationality regions where the uprising has been particularly strong and persistent. In 2022 the largest numbers of the executed were for supposed “common crimes” of drug-related charges, followed by murder.3
Three things are important to point out: First, due process for prisoners in Iran does not exist in any recognizable form, such as to being innocent until proven guilty, impartial trials, access to lawyers and legal files, etc., etc. So, EVERY conviction is suspect. Second, it is against current international law to execute people for so-called drug related charges, and in Iran, even alcohol is deemed a drug. Lastly, any execution sends a horrible chill throughout society and is a means to terrorize the entire population.
In 2022, the pace of “common prisoner” executions surged in the last three months of the year during the WLF uprising.4 On top of the official executions, extra-judicial killings continue. Since the fall of 2022, people have been disappeared or unaccounted for, and some found dead. For example, the body of revolutionary activist and laborer Sadegh Fouladivanda was found 18 days after his arrest in February, thrown in a canal with signs of torture and hanging.
Continuing Protests in Iran and Calls for Global Protests of Iran’s Executions
On May 5 and 12, 2023, the streets of Zahedan in the province of Sistan and Balochistan were once again filled with marchers, for the 31st and 32nd weeks of continuous protests after Friday morning prayers. This time, on the heels of the execution of dozens of Baloch prisoners,5 an additional slogan rang out: “Death to the Republic of Executions!”
On May 9, in front of Ghezal Hezar prison in Karaj (outside Tehran), family members of prisoners sentenced to death gathered to protest. They were met with tear gas, bullets fired above them, and truncheons: one was hospitalized with severe injuries. Protests outside the prisons where executions appear imminent have become more common, albeit still limited, as well as protest actions by prisoners themselves.
Significantly, there are beginning calls by various political forces to protest these executions and potential ones in different countries around the world. For example, an Instagram post by @azadi.daily called for protests on May 14 to Free Toomaj Salehi and ALL political prisoners, listing London; Washington, DC; Paris and eight other cities in France; Italy; Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and more. (See IEC’s call for groundswell needed to #FreeToomaj.)
Among statements calling for opposition to the surge in executions, is one from the Mothers of Laleh Park, an organization of mothers of protesters killed by the Islamic Republic which was formed after the suppression of the Green Movement in 2009. It was reposted by Burn The Cage and translated to English by IEC volunteers. It reads, in part:
Execution is a deliberate murder by the State! Let's all stand up against it! We, the mothers of Iran’s Laleh Park, as a voice of the Iranian people's justice movement, consider execution to be an intentional murder by the state and a criminal act by the Islamic Republic of Iran. We strongly condemn these crimes and ask all freedom loving people to rise up and take urgent action for abolition of the death penalty, and for saving the lives of freedom fighters on the streets and in prisons. We are together and alongside with the "Woman, Life, Freedom" uprising, demanding freedom and liberation from dictatorship and elimination of any discrimination and injustice.
On May 8, six women prisoners in Evin Prison in Tehran bravely issued a statement. It includes:
Charges of "corruption on earth" and "war on god" and issuance of death sentences and its execution across the country from Sistan and Balochistan, Khuzestan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan to Tehran, is accelerated, and without fair trials they lack legal and moral direction…
[T]he government will not achieve anything by suppressing people and creating fear and terror through killing, and it is doomed to failure. We urge international organizations and the world media to support the people and put pressure on the Islamic Republic to prevent the continuation of government violence and to help the people of Iran achieve their will.
In sum, the danger of an intensified wave of executions, including of political prisoners, emphasizes the importance of endorsing and promoting the demands of Emergency Appeal of the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now!, signed by nearly 5,000 people in 50 countries, including by renowned people of conscience such as Noam Chomsky, Shirin Ebadi, Daniel Ellsberg, Raymond Lotta, Gloria Steinem and Ariel Dorfman.
All justice loving people who had been inspired by, and had supported, the courageous Women, Life, Freedom uprising in Iran must intensify their efforts to speak and act in protest of these executions and to urgently demand freedom for all Iran’s political prisoners NOW!