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What we know about executions in Iran following months of protests

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Iran's brutal crackdown on anti-government protests has resulted in a number of executions in a nation that already carried out more judicial killings than almost any other in the world.

The protests erupted in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after she was arrested and, according to her family, beaten by police for failing to wear a hijab properly.

A repressive crackdown by the government quickly followed, including mass arrests, shutting down internet access and violence against protesters.

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A number of protesters have also been executed following what critics have decried as hasty sham trials in the country's Revolutionary Court.

But the executions are shrouded in secrecy, with the trials held behind closed doors and sentences often not announced until long afterwards.

So what do we actually know about the executions in Iran?

Is Iran executing protestors?

Yes. We know of four Iranians who have been executed after taking part in protests.

The first, Mohsen Shekari, was hanged on December 8. Majdireza Rahanavard was put to death four days later, and this year there have been two more known executions of protesters: Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini, both on January 7.

According to the United Nations, all four were killed without their families being notified.

On January 10, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) said two more people – 19-year-old Mohammad Boroughani and 22-year-old Mohammad Ghobadiou – were facing "imminent" executions, and that a further 15 had been sentenced to death.

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Protesters wear portraits of Majid Reza Rahnavard, 23, and Mohsen Shekari, 23, both of whom were recently executed by Iranian authorities, during a demonstration by supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran outside the German Foreign Ministry on December 12, 2022 in Berlin, Germany

More still are facing capital charges that could lead to execution. The UNHCR puts that number at "up to 100", but the Center for Human Rights in Iran (Iran HR) says there are even more.

"At least 109 protesters are currently at risk of execution, death penalty charges or sentences," it said in a report on January 9.

"This is a minimum as most families are under pressure to stay quiet, the real number is believed to be much higher."

Another high-profile execution, that of dual Iranian-British national Ali Reza Akbari which drew massive international condemnation, is not directly linked to the protests.

However, the former high-ranking defence ministry official was a close ally of top security official Ali Shamkhani, and his hanging suggests an ongoing power struggle within Iran's regime as it tries to contain the demonstrations.

It's worth noting that the number of people killed in the protests far exceeds the number executed. The total protester death toll, according to Iran HR, is at least 481, a figure which includes 64 children and 35 women.

Nonprofit organisation Human Rights Activists in Iran puts the number even higher at 525, plus 68 pro-regime forces who have been killed.

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 In this photo released by KhabarOnline News Agency on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, Ali Reza Akbari speaks in an interview, Iran. Iran has executed Akbari after convicting him on charges of spying for Britain, media reported on Saturday. (KhabarOnline News Agency via AP, File)

What are people executed for in Iran?

Iran has a number of capital crimes that are extremely vague which it has used to convict protesters.

Shekari, for example, was accused of injuring a paramilitary officer during the demonstrations, but he was convicted of "moharebeh" – waging war against god.

Other similar crimes include "efsad-e fel arz" – corruption on Earth – and "baghi" – armed rebellion.

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk says such charges fall well short of "the most serious crimes" as required by international human rights law for the death penalty.

He said the executions are tantamount to state-sanctioned killing.

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"The weaponisation of criminal procedures to punish people for exercising their basic rights – such as those participating in or organising demonstrations – amounts to state-sanctioned killing," Türk said on January 10.

Trials are often held behind closed doors and, according to Amnesty International, Iran has well-documented patterns of conducting "grossly unfair" legal proceedings.

"Defendants are systematically deprived of access to lawyers of their choice during the trial, are subjected to tortured and coerced confessions and then rushed to the gallows," Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, said.

How many people has Iran executed in 2022?

The total number of executions conducted by Iran in 2022 is difficult to find, given it has only just ended.

However, midway through the year, Amnesty International published research in conjunction with the Abdorrahman Boroumand Centre for Human Rights which claimed authorities had gone on a "killing spree" and executed 251 people between the start of January and end of June – before the anti-government protests even began.

If the second half of the year contained a similar number, it would make for the most executions conducted by Iran in a single year in around half a decade.

The country repeatedly has one of the highest execution rates in the world. According to data from Amnesty International, it has had the second-most confirmed executions behind China in every single year from 2005-2021. 

A police motorcycle burns during a protest over the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who died after being arrested by the Islamic republic's "morality police", in Tehran, Iran September 19, 2022.

Are executions public in Iran?

Iran does conduct public executions, although there was a pause due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. However, Amnesty International said they resumed last year.

"The Iranian authorities carried out one public execution in 2022, none in 2021, one in 2020, 13 in 2019 and 13 in 2018," it said.

"Official announcements indicate that in early 2022, at least two other people in Esfahan province and one person in Lorestan province were sentenced to be executed in public."

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However, not all executions are public and many are instead shrouded in secrecy and misinformation.

Activists say Iranian authorities have developed sophisticated methods of spreading disinformation on how, why and when executions will be carried out.

Civil rights activist Atena Daemi said, for example, that several Iranian news outlets had reported that activists on death row had been released, news that was refuted by the prisoners' families.

– With CNN, Associated Press



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