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Source: Washington Post

Jan 7, 2023

By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Miriam Berger 

Iran hanged two men tied to anti-government protests on Saturday, continuing a trend of using capital punishment to suppress dissent. The government has also killed hundreds of people, held thousands of sham trials and sentenced more people to death row, according to rights groups.

The men, Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, 39, were both accused of taking part in the killing of a member of the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary force overseen by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, on Nov. 3 near the city of Karaj, according to the Mizan News Agency, which is tied to Iran’s judiciary.

They are the third and fourth protesters to be executed by the government since September and the first time two have been killed on the same day, perhaps indicating a ramping up of Iran’s lethal campaign to deter protests that have rocked the country for nearly four months.

“These men weren’t executed after a judicial process, they were lynched,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group. Detainees are frequently subject to physical and mental torture and forced to confess, according to Ghaemi and other rights activists.

He added, “The Islamic Republic is using executions and lethal force against street protesters to instill terror in the hearts of the population to crush the Iranian people’s hopes and calls for change.”

Iran convicted 16 people in a mass trial in early December, including three minors, and sentenced five to death, including Karami, Hosseini and Hamid Ghare-Hassanlou, 53, a prominent doctor who his family and rights groups say was tortured in prison. Ghare-Hassanlou’s death sentence was overturned earlier this week and he is scheduled to be retried.

Two other men, both 23, were separately executed in December after being accused of taking part in assaulting or killing members of the security forces.

There was widespread international condemnation of the executions in December, though it appears to have not deterred Iran’s judiciary.

Protests kicked off last September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the “morality police” for allegedly wearing improper clothing. At least 517 people have been killed in the subsequent crackdown and nearly 20,000 people arrested, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA.)

Video posted online of the killing on Nov. 3 purportedly shows a mob of protesters beating a member of the Basij as he lies motionless on the road. Many of those in the crowd that day were returning from a ceremony commemorating Hadis Najafi, a young woman who was killed in September during an anti-government protest.

Karami and Hosseini were accused of taking part in the killing of the Basij member. Amnesty International called the court proceedings “a fast-tracked unfair sham group trial … which bore no resemblance to judicial proceedings.”

In a video posted online last month, Karami’s father explained that his son, a karate champion, was fourth on the national team. Both he and Karami’s mother then pleaded in the video that the judiciary not execute their son.

Karami had been on a hunger strike for four days before his execution to demand access to his lawyer, which he and the other detainees were denied, according to CHRI.

Hosseini was severely tortured in prison and forced to confess in violation of international law, according to his lawyer, Ali Sharifzadeh Ardakani. The abuse included binding Hosseini’s hands and feet, kicking him in the head until he lost consciousness and subjecting him to electrical shocks throughout his body, Ardakani said in a tweet in December.

Their trial was held in the first branch of the Karaj Revolutionary Court, which is part of a judicial system set up to protect Iran’s ruling clerics and fearsome Revolutionary Guard security forces.

The presiding judge, Musa Asef al-Hosseini, has issued 23 verdicts, including five death sentences, according to HRANA.

Al-Hosseini has so far issued the highest number of death sentences during this round of protests, Shiva Nazarahari, a member of the Follow-Up Committee on the Situation of Detainees, based outside Iran, told The Washington Post. Another notoriously ruthless judge, Abolqasem Salavati is under U.S. sanctions and has issued ten verdicts, including one death sentence.

Nazarahari’s committee is tracking the arrests and sentences of protesters, a painstaking task as detainees and their families are under extreme state pressure not to speak out and information about trials is often not public.

Nazarahari said eight more people remain on death row, after several death sentences were successfully appealed, and more than 80 people currently face charges that could produce a death sentence.

When members of Iran’s security forces “get hurt, injured or killed, they [authorities] would arrest tens of people, give them long prison sentences or sentence them to death, like in the case of today’s execution,” Nazarahari said. “On the other hand, over 500 protesters have been killed, but no one has taken responsibility for just one of them.”

“It is inexplicable the pain we feel,” she said, regarding Saturday’s executions. “This is what they [Iran’s leaders] want us to feel. So we have to get back on our feet.”

By Miriam Berger - Miriam Berger is a staff writer reporting on foreign news for The Washington Post from Washington, D.C. Before joining The Post in 2019 she was based in Jerusalem and Cairo and freelance reported around the Middle East, as well as parts of Africa and Central Asia. Twitter

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