North Africa, West Asia

Iranians say no to executions

While many are dying from COVID-19, the Iranian regime is still trying to execute those arrested in the November protests. But people are speaking up.

Mina Khani
31 July 2020
Iranian exiles demonstrate in a vigil against the regime in Tehran on Roncalliplatz. Koln, 11 January 2020
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Picture by Christoph Hardt/Geisler-Fotopres/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved

Three young men arrested during the November 2019 protests were to be executed in Iran. However, millions of Iranians took an issue with this on social networks, declaring their rejection of the execution. .

They are, Amirhossein Moradi, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi. The "No to execution" campaign quickly went viral on Iranian and Farsi-language social networks. For more than three days, Iranians on social media, responded to the news that the judiciary has confirmed the death penalty for these young men.

The hashtag #اعدام_نکنید has been used against execution more than 10 million times.

The campaign had an impact and the execution of the three men was temporarily suspended. This is significant because execution and state murder are amongst the most important strategies of the Iranian state to maintain the system.

In Iran, any person and group that questions the state and its order socially, religiously, ethnically or politically can be subjected to the death penalty. This includes political prisoners and protesters but also ordinary people whose behavior, resistance, existence or identity has been criminalized. Specifically, this means: gays and lesbians, Kurds, Arabs, Afghans, Beluchis, Sunnis, Baha’is, Dervishes, political prisoners, protesters, women who have sexual relationships outside of marriage or who oppose the gender order of the Islamic Republic, and others who are considered a threat to the regime.

This policy of fear prevails when people know that their lives are in permanent danger and that the government is able to use massive repression if they deny the political and social order of the state.

This strategy needs a judicial system that sentences people to ten or fifteen years in prison for simply teaching their mother tongues like the cases of Zara Mohammadi, a Kurdish activist or Abbas Lesani a Turkish activist. We have seen similar processes in the cases of many students, workers and women who expressed themselves against the existing political, gender and economic order in Iran.

Iranian human rights organizations have often reported violations of prisoners' human rights and torture. According to Justice for Iran, an Iranian human rights organization based in London, Iranian state media released more than 860 confessions and defamations between 2009 and 2019.

Iranian human rights organizations have often reported violations of prisoners' human rights and torture

The November 2019 protests were the largest since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. In just a few days, the Iranian state killed between several hundreds and 1500 people, according to Amnesty International, and Reuters.

After the protests, the state had to make a show of executing the three men. The three men are neither gay, nor political activists for ethnic or religious minorities, they are obviously not women, and can hardly be classified politically. Symbolically, what this meant for many Iranians is that the state was addressing all the protesters and saying, "I am now executing the most acceptable faces of this movement so that you can all draw your own consequences." And indeed millions of Iranians reacted to this message.

Many Afghans were also an active part of the campaign, even though they are negatively affected by structural and social racism in Iran. Nonetheless, the campaign was also heavily criticized by a number of ethnic minority activists when only two days before, two Kurdish prisoners were executed but did not receive much attention, and many others, including Kurds and Arabs are on death row and could be executed at any time.

Despite all its shortcomings and considering all the criticism it received, one positive thing to observe is that people who used the campaign hashtag did not only care about these three men. In fact, many people identified with these three men to the extent that they have written about their own experiences with the Iranian state and with the organized violence of the state. This included outrage about the fact that two of the men sentenced to the death penalty, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi, were deported from Turkey despite having applied for asylum in Turkey.

Iran has not experienced a quiet day since the November 2019 riots. In December, as the escalation between Iran and the United States reached the point of a possibile war, people were still learning how many were killed and arrested during the November protests. Then, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing 176 people, including many Iranians. Shortly afterwards, the Coronavirus hit Iran and until today the country has been severely affected by the pandemic.

While many are dying every day because of the failure of the state in managing the Coronavirus crisis, the state still wants to execute those arrested in November. This is why the “No” that people proclaimed goes beyond the “no to executions”.

A version of this article was first published in German on Der Freitag

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