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“The regime is ready to kill and it wants to let it be known”

Repression seems to have taken a new step in Iran after the execution of Majid Reza Rahnavard. The 23-year-old is the second to be put to death after the start of protests that have rocked the country for three months, and the first publicly. According to Amnesty International, twenty-eight other people, including three minors, risk the same fate.

“The regime has realized that killing demonstrators in the street was not enough to stifle protest. So now it is killing them in court,” denounces Hirbod Dehghani-Azar. This Franco-Iranian lawyer lists from Paris the abuses committed by the Iranian authorities in the repression of the demonstrations which have shaken the country for three months [et la mort de Mahsa Amini, arrêtée puis tuée par la police des mœurs]. “We already had arbitrary arrests, violence, torture… The death penalty is just one more tool in their arsenal to make terror reign.”

Iranian judicial authorities announced on Monday (December 12th) the second execution of a demonstrator since the beginning of the protest movement sparked by the death on September 16th of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after his arrest by the morality police for having, according to her, violated the strict dress code of the Islamic Republic. After Mohsen Shekari was found guilty of attacking and injuring a paramilitary, 23-year-old Majid Reza Rahnavard was hanged at dawn, just 23 days after his arrest. According to state media, he was accused of stabbing to death two members of the security forces and wounding four others.

First public performance

Unlike Mohsen Shekari, who was executed in complete secrecy on Thursday, Majid Reza Rahnavard was publicly put to death. In the hours that followed, state media released footage showing the young man, his hands tied behind his back, dangling from a rope attached to a crane in a square in the city of Mashhad in northeastern Israel. ‘Iran. “This killing is intended as a brutal illustration that the regime is ready to kill and it wants to let it be known,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), told France 24. in Norway.

“Especially since the choice of Majid Reza Rahnavard seems symbolic”, abounds the lawyer Hirbod Dehghani-Azar. “He was young and practiced wrestling – a sacred sport in Iran. In sentencing him to death, the message was clear: ‘no matter how old you are, no matter who you are, you could be next.'” Something to echo , perhaps, to Qatar where some Iranian players took advantage of the platform offered by the Football World Cup to send implicit support to the demonstrators.

>> To read also on France 24: “Football has no meaning when children are killed in Iran”: report from Iranian supporters

Iran, champion of death sentences

This recourse to the death penalty is not surprising, recalls the lawyer, while Iran holds, with China, “the dark record of the number of death sentences per inhabitant in the world”. “These are punishable: murder, drug trafficking, crimes against the state, but also blasphemy, adultery or sodomy – considered as offenses against religion”, he underlines.

The country thus counted 333 people executed in 2021 and 267 in 2020, according to the count carried out each year by Iran human rights. The Islamic Republic is also the worst executioner of women, with 185 hangings since 2010, and alone concentrates 73% of the executions of minors in the world, according to the same source.

“And each time the country is the scene of protest movements, the government responds with unprecedented violence, in particular by resorting to the death penalty. It has never hesitated to use it as a tool for instrumentalization or political repression”, recalls Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the NGO IHR. The latter evokes, for example, “hundreds” of people sentenced to capital punishment in 2009, in the face of the “green” movement against electoral fraud, or during the gigantic anti-government demonstrations in 2017 and 2019.

Thus, “as soon as the authorities sense a protest movement emerging, the number of death sentences increases dramatically”, he continues. “Even before September, the year 2022 had been rich in protests. Result: there have been a total of 510 executions since January.”

mock trials

In theory, the power cannot legally condemn a demonstrator for simply taking to the streets, recalls the Franco-Iranian lawyer Hirbod Dehghani-Azar. To circumvent this, the authorities create false accusations and rely, according to experts, on a judicial system totally at their service.

“The defendants are forced, under torture, to confess to facts that they did not commit and which allow them to be tried for ‘enmity against God or corruption on Earth'”, he explains. . “These two concepts, which are very vague, leave a very large margin of maneuver to the judges. Considered as exceptional laws, they make it possible to sentence to death in hasty trials behind closed doors, depriving the accused of a lawyer or witnesses .”

In the days leading up to his execution, videos showing Majid Reza Rahnavard, bruised on his face and arm in plaster, confessing to his crimes, circulated on social media. “Proof of torture but not of his crime”, according to the lawyer.

“The judiciary is at the service of the state, not the protection of the people,” laments Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam of IHR. “And the lawyers who courageously continue to defend the defendants risk the same sentence as them. By pleading for them, they are guilty of the same crimes.”

The fear of mass executions

In total, Amnesty International has identified 27 other protesters sentenced to death. “A figure that we know is underestimated. Mohsen Shekari, for example, was not on our list,” explains Fanny Gallois, head of the Freedoms program at Amnesty France.

“Thousands of people have been imprisoned since the start of the protests. If nothing is done, the list of those sentenced to death will grow day by day,” she warns, calling for the establishment of an independent inquiry to investigate human rights violations in the country. “Not to mention that to this list must also be added the approximately 500 people who were killed in the repression of the demonstrations.”

Among those identified by the NGO, Mahan Sadrat, accused of having brandished a knife in the demonstrations – which he denies – was sentenced to death on November 3 and transferred on Saturday to Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj, near of Tehran, “raising fears of imminent execution”.

Also on the list are karate champion Mohammad Mahdi Karami, Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin targeted after posting messages of support for protesters on social media, and radiologist doctor Hamid Ghare-Hasanlou whose wife has already been sentenced to twenty-five years in prison in the south of the country.

According to Amnesty, the couple had attended a ceremony in early November for the fortieth day of the death of Hadith Nadjafi, killed during a demonstration. On their way home, they would have found themselves stranded near a place where a militiaman had just been killed. “Three 17-year-old minors are also on the list of convicts,” concludes Fanny Gallois of Amnesty International. For its part, the Iranian justice claims to have pronounced death sentences against eleven people in connection with the “riots”.

“Today, I fear the worst. Because if the regime uses the death penalty to provoke terror in the population, it seems to have the opposite effect: it stirs up their anger and the mobilization does not weaken”, concludes for its part. lawyer Hirbod Dehghani-Azar. “The international community must respond in a much tougher way. If it doesn’t, the executions will continue, on a daily basis.”

On Monday, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, announced that the EU would approve “a set of very, very tough sanctions” against Tehran, targeting, according to Berlin, those responsible for the executions and the repression.

>> See also on France 24: GUEST OF THE DAY – Hirbod Dehghani Azar, lawyer: “In Iran, the regime executes and says it will no longer hold back”

France 24-Trans

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