The protests that erupted after the brutal death of Mahsa Amini on 16 September 2022, who died while in the custody of Iranian “morality” police, have now resulted in Iranian authorities turning to the death penalty in an attempt to quash calls for change. Since 13 November, the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Tehran have been sentencing protesters to death for crimes such as “enmity against God” and “corruption on earth.” At the time of writing, at least 21 people are at risk of receiving the death penalty, which is intended to deter others from revolting against the state.
Five of the 21 people at risk have officially been sentenced to death, with the remainder being at different stages. Amnesty International outlines how, apart from the five, six men will be tried as a group, and another three are facing separate trials. In eight out of these nine cases, there were no accusations of intention to kill, and instead, charges are primarily centered around the destruction of property and public disorder. Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, called on Iranian authorities to “refrain from seeking the imposition of the death penalty and drop all charges against those arrested in connection with their peaceful participation in protests.”
On 11 November UN experts echoed this calling on the Islamic Republic to release all protesters who have been arrested “for the sole reason of exercising their legitimate rights to freedom of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly and for their actions to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means.” This announcement came after 6 November, when a clear majority in the Iranian Parliament voted to call on the judiciary to act decisively against people arrested during the protests. This violation of human rights is made worse by claims that protesters are being denied a fair trial. Amnesty International shine a light on this by describing how protesters that have been arrested are facing difficulties ranging from being refused access to a lawyer, all the way to torture and forced confessions. In response to this, the UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on the Islamic Republic of Iran on 24 November to address the situation.
These trials are taking place in the background of ongoing civil unrest in the Islamic Republic. The suspicious circumstances surrounding Mahsa Amini’s death while in police custody have set in motion the biggest threat to the regime in its 40-year reign. Thousands of protesters have been arrested, including journalists, human rights defenders, and school children. Videos that have managed to bypass the strict censorship in place show footage of schoolgirls removing their headpieces while calling for the removal of Ali Khamenei. Leaked audio obtained by BBC Persian outlines how over 15,000 people have been arrested thus far, with the Iranian judiciary indicting over 1,000 protesters in Tehran alone. Emmanuel Macron has described the unrest as a revolution and talks on a nuclear deal that would see EU and U.S. sanctions lifted on Iran have been halted.
The international community rallies behind the people of Iran as they continue to revolt against the regime’s abusive practices, particularly toward women, and the unlawful detainment of peaceful protesters. As Iranian officials have declared that the trials will be made public, and international governments are encouraged to send high-level diplomatic officials based in Iran to attend the trials of protesters that are at risk of receiving the death penalty. Continued pressure must be put on the state to guarantee all a fair trial, and to allow the people of Iran the right to peaceful protests.
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