By Potkin Azarmehr
Iran’s ruling Ayatollahs are desperate to quell the nationwide protests aimed at their overthrow. The protests, initially sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, have now lasted four months.
The most brutal methods have been deployed in this crackdown by the regime. More than 500 protesters, including 60 children, have been killed during the protests, according to reports by human rights organizations. Thousands of protesters have been injured, hundreds have been blinded, and more than 18,000 have been arrested and detained in inhumane conditions.
The kidnapping and abduction of dissidents and protesters has become a daily routine. Yet, young people persist in trying to end the nightmare of four decades of theocracy in Iran by coming out onto the streets and chanting against the mullahs’ rule.
As the regime’s repressive troops look increasingly drained, the Ayatollahs are turning to the execution of protesters. They aim to instill more fear into the population.
Mass execution of political prisoners is not new for the ayatollahs. In the summer of 1988, Khomeini was worried that with Iran unable to continue the war with Iraq discontent in the post-Iran-Iraq war era would grow, and political prisoners who had served their prison sentences would organize dissent once they were freed. To stop that, Khomeini resorted to the mass execution of political prisoners. Even those who had served their sentences were summarily executed. This crime went largely unnoticed at the time, and there was no international reaction to the executions.
Now the ayatollahs are dipping their toes into the water again. Two young protesters have so far been executed, and they are waiting to see how ferocious the international reaction and its consequences will be.
The first victim, Mohsen Shekari, 23, was convicted of wounding a Baseej militia and blocking the road during a protest. His family has disputed the court’s charges. His uncle said, “Having seen Baseej militia attacking the protesters, he placed a guard rail in the middle of the road to protect the protesters by blocking off the road”. Shekari’s trial lacked all the basic and fair judicial procedures, and relied on a forced confession. This is a customary ploy by a regime that has lost all validity in the eyes of the world. The fact that Mohsen Shekari’s actions had not resulted in any loss of life even prompted remorseful reactions among some Iranian officials.
Jalil Mohebi, a member of the Majlis Commission for Scientific Research, said “Shekari was guilty but not a Mohareb,” meaning his charges were not “waging war against God” and did not warrant a death penalty. Even Iranian Shia theologian, Morteza Moghtadaei, the deputy chairman of the Society of Seminary Teachers and a former Revolutionary Court judge, criticized the judiciary for issuing the sentence.
The execution of Shekari resulted in widespread international condemnation. Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, tweeted, “The Iranian regime’s inhumanity knows no bounds. #MoshenShekari was sentenced & executed in a perfidious summary procedure because he disagreed with the regime. But the threat of execution will not suffocate people’s desire for freedom.”
Iran’s judiciary quickly needed to find another victim for execution so that it would appear they did not care about the international reaction. Only three days after the first execution, Majid Reza Rahnavard, an Iranian athlete and wrestler, also aged 23, was hanged before dawn. The video showed he was hanged from a crane in front of members of the Baseej and “law enforcement” forces as they chanted “Allahu Akbar.”
The regime in Iran may have assumed Rahnavard’s execution would be harder to condemn by the international community. This time they had CCTV camera footage showing Rahnavard stabbing two Baseej militias. The regime was wrong, however. The international community has lost all trust in Iran’s sham judicial process.
Rahnavard was popular as an athlete and wrestler. He had no previous convictions, and all who knew him spoke well of him. Even state TV couldn’t portray him as a common criminal. Instead, they said he was influenced by foreign satellite television stations and cyberspace information, making him temporarily lose his better judgment. A state TV report also tried to blame the shoppers’ strike on Rahnavard, saying the traders were so scared when they saw him that they closed their shops.
The CCTV footage did not show what happened before Rahnavard lashed out at the regime’s so-called security forces. Reports suggested that the Baseej started firing tear gas into people’s homes and smashing their windows. Rahnavard’s sister was then attacked by them, prompting their mother to come to her rescue. The Baseej reportedly started beating the mother, too, and shouting extreme profanities at them. When Majid Reza heard his mother’s screams, he became angry and chased the Baseej members.
Majid Reza Rahnavard was shown on state TV blindfolded with his left arm broken. They asked him what his last wish was. He replied, “I don’t want people to cry by my grave, I don’t want them to pray or recite the Quran, I want them to be joyful.”
Majid Reza’s family was led to believe that if their son made a staged confession on state TV, he would be freed. Instead, they were called early in the morning and told their son had been executed and buried.
Many more protesters have been sentenced to execution by the regime. It is crucial for the international community to keep pressure on the Iranian regime. Several German MPs have publicly declared they are politically sponsoring Iranian protesters who are awaiting execution.
More such actions are needed to stop Iran’s regime from carrying out further executions.