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Rule of LawIran

Iran protesters fight death penalty as executions await

Shabnam von Hein
January 12, 2023

After carrying out two executions on Saturday and two in December, Iran plans to execute two more young men for participating in the ongoing nationwide protests. But resistance is coming from within Iran and abroad.

A noose hangs in front of the Iranian flag
Iran has sentenced 17 people to death since protests began in SeptemberImage: Christoph Hardt/Geisler-Fotopres/picture alliance

Mohammad Boroughani is 19 years old, Mohammad Ghobadlou is 22. They are incarcerated at Gohardasht Prison in Karaj, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of the capital, Tehran. Iranian human rights activists say they were each moved into solitary confinement on Saturday, which is widely seen as preparation for their executions.

Over the weekend, Boroughani's mother announced on social media that she had been informed by the government that her son would be executed. On Saturday, she and other relatives of the young men gathered outside the prison. Others soon joined them, and the gathering became a protest against Iran's regime, with anti-government chants. Security forces at the prison fired shots into the air and used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Videos of the event quickly went viral.

"Iranian authorities need to execute — need to implement these death penalties to spread fear in society because they haven't managed to control the protests," Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Oslo-based organization Iran Human Rights, told DW.

"But we should keep in mind that we don't have a rule of law and due process in Iran," he said. "So international reactions, pressure, can still save Mohammad Ghobadlou and Mohammad Boroughani's lives."

Sanctions for the Revolutionary Guard?

Ghobadlou was arrested in Tehran in September, shortly after nationwide protests erupted following the death of 22-year-old Jina Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran's morality police. He is accused of having run over a police officer.

Boroughani was arrested in Karaj and sentenced to death for setting fire to a government building and injuring a member of Iran's volunteer Basij militia. The Basij is part of the Revolutionary Guard, and its plainclothes members are often used to violently suppress demonstrations. The Revolutionary Guard, an elite military unit of Iran's army, was founded after the 1979 Islamic Revolution by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and reports directly to the current supreme leader, Khomeini's successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian rights activists such as Amiry-Moghaddam have called on the European Union to put the Revolutionary Guard on its terror list. The United States labeled the outfit a terror organization in 2019. "I think a practical consequence of the recent two executions could be putting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, on a sanctions list or on a terrorist list, and put also sanctions on all entities under the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei," he said.

A protester in Berlin holds a placard with the word 'murderer' and an image of two hanged individuals superimposed over the face of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Protests against executions in Iran are growing in GermanyImage: Weber/Eibner-Pressefoto/picture alliance

"We are already sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard because of the weapons of mass destruction that they are developing," Hannah Neumann, a member of Germany's Green Party and a lawmaker in the European Parliament, told DW. "We are also individually sanctioning a number of the key players in the Revolutionary Guard. And, yes, we are at the moment working on legal pathways, but we are also — and that is part of the truth — working on political compromises so that we can finally call them what they are, a terror organization."

Asked whether Germany should sever diplomatic ties with Iran, Neumann said: "I think it's important that our embassy in Tehran continue its work, continue to give us information, continue to support demonstrators and continue to provide visas for those who wish to leave the country."

Germany calls on Iran to 'immediately release' prisoners

Political prisoners are getting support from members of the Bundestag such as Helge Limburg, a Green Party member who declared himself a sponsor of Mohammad Mehdi Karami. Despite Limburg's efforts, the 22-year-old karate champion was executed Saturday alongside 20-year-old Seyed Mohammad Hosseini.

Limburg said it was a "terrifying moment" when he got the news of the execution from Iran. He told DW that people in Iran and across the world would not remain silent, adding that the role of sponsors was to bring to light "special cases" that Iranian authorities are trying to keep hidden.

"And we try to make it public, to bring to the world what happens in Iran and to put names on the faces of activists in Iran who are tortured, who are imprisoned, who are unfairly tried," Limburg said.

Iran's government has sentenced 17 people to death since the protests began in September. Since December, four executions have been carried out, which has not put an end to protests.

"The German federal government condemns in the strongest terms Iran's continued reliance on the death penalty as a means of repression," spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in Berlin. He "again strongly urged" the regime in Tehran not to carry out new executions and to immediately abolish the death penalty.

Hebestreit said Germany and its partners would continue to increase pressure on Tehran. "We are calling on Iran to immediately release all unlawfully detained prisoners," he said.

This article was originally written in German.