Iran: A Movement for Life Against Execution

Removing the death penalty has been a key anti-government demand of demonstrators in Iran in recent years.
Image from the Friday’s protest in Zahedan.

Worishe Moradi and Shahab Nad-Ali, two political opponents, have been accused of “Baghy”. An examination of the implementation and issuance of death sentences from January 2023 to January 2024 shows that the number of executions carried out has consistently been higher than the number of new death sentences issued. This significant difference indicates a more aggressive policy by the judiciary or an effort for cleansing.

“Baghy” means aggression and infringement of others’ rights. According to the Islamic Penal Code, the crime of “Baghy” (Equivalent to rebellion) is defined as the act committed by a group that stands up against the foundation and principle of the Islamic Republic in an armed manner, meaning with weapons and guns, and opposes the Islamic Republic of Iran’s regime.

The crime of “Baghy” has two states; the first is that the group, which is armed with weapons and stands against the Islamic Republic, uses their weapons in this uprising. The second state is that they only hold the weapons for intimidation and terror, without actually using them, meaning they do not fire.

“Baghy” is different from “Moharebeh”. According to Islamic Penal Code, “Moharebeh” meaning using weapons against people with the intent of frightening them. Here, anything can be defined as a weapon. From a piece of rock to setting fire to a trash can or even dancing! From the Quran’s perspective, someone who terrifies people with armed robbery and assaults their life and property is considered as if they have waged war against God and God’s messenger.

According to the Islamic Penal Code, those who engage in an armed uprising against the foundation of the Republic’s regime and use their weapons will be condemned to the death penalty. Even membership in political organizations against the government, whose activities are illegal in Iran, can qualify for this charge.

This legal provision simplifies the classification of political opponents as terrorists. The trial of The Union of Iranian Communists (Sarbedaaran) in the 1981 is one of the most significant examples. During the trial, the Sharia judge equated public criticism of the Islamic Republic with terrorism, claiming that members of the Sarbedaaran party’s cultural and propaganda committee were terrorizing people’s thoughts. Members of this organization were ultimately executed on these charges. This method remains a main pillar of cultural suppression and censorship in Iran to this day.

Death penalty is a tool of oppression used by the state, resonates profoundly with the situation in Iran. Marx argued that capital punishment serves as a brutal manifestation of state power, designed to maintain social order through fear rather than addressing the root causes of crime. Iran’s use of the death penalty, particularly in politically charged cases and against international human rights standards, exemplifies the kind of state violence Marx condemned.

Increasing the execution of political opponents

HRANA, the human rights activists’ news agency in Iran, reported a stark increase in the judiciary’s activity, with 35 death sentences issued in January this year, marking the highest monthly rate within a year. This surge led to a total of 86 executions across the nation within just one month.

The agency’s analysis from January 2023 to January 2024 highlights a disturbing trend: the executions consistently outnumber the new death sentences. This discrepancy suggests either a more aggressive judicial policy or an attempt at societal “cleansing.”

In a distressing statistical update for January 2024, HRANA noted that at least 86 individuals were executed, with 35 new death sentences handed down during the same period. This contrasts with January 2023’s figures, where 63 executions and 23 death sentences were reported, indicating a significant increase in both executions and new sentences within a year.

The comparative data underscores a worrying escalation in both executions and death sentences in Iran, with 23 additional executions and 12 more death sentences in January 2024 compared to the previous January.

Despite global appeals to end capital punishment, particularly for non-grave offenses, Iran’s execution rates persist. Highlighting the severity of this issue, HRANA brought attention to the execution of Mohammed Ghobadlou, linked to the “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests. His execution, amid international outcry over his health condition and the fairness of his trial, blatantly disregards international mandates, such as the United Nations Human Rights Commission Resolution (2000/85) which explicitly bans the death penalty for individuals suffering from certain diseases.

Iran’s continued application of the death penalty after unfair trials in a non-transparent and biased judiciary, for crimes not deemed “most serious” by global norms, directly infringes on the fundamental right to life, contradicting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This ongoing practice not only reflects a harsher judicial stance or a purging effort but also highlights the government’s use of capital punishment as a means to quell dissent.

Ignoring the international community’s pleas for human rights adherence, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s delay in responding underscores the urgent need for accountability. International sanctions should target judges, interrogators, and security personnel implicated in these human rights abuses.

Tuesdays Against Execution

Inmates at Qezelhesar Prison have initiated a movement called “Tuesdays Against Execution” or “Black Tuesdays.” This call to action seeks to expand the movement and struggle against the widespread executions carried out by the despised Islamic government, which has broken its record of executions in recent years by executing about 800 people in the last year. Executions are usually carried out on Tuesdays, and the sound of the call to prayer (Adhan) from the prison’s loudspeakers spreads the resonance of death and crime. The prisoners have announced that from now on, they will go on hunger strike every Tuesday in protest against the executions.

The Justice-Seeking Institution, in support of this courageous act by the prisoners in Qezelhesar, has called for turning every Tuesday into a day of public protest against execution by protesting against executions daily and raising the “No to Execution” flag at protest gatherings.

The institution has called for, alongside the Qezelhesar prisoners, launching protest gatherings, virtual storms, warning strikes, and any other form of protest to give more cohesion to our struggle against executions. Following these calls, on Tuesday, 6th of Fabruary, the hunger strike by Qezelhesar prisoners spread to other prisons, including Evin, Saqqez, Karaj, and Mashhad.

Gohar Eshghi, a mother renowned for her valiant struggle for justice, has emerged as an iconic figure of dissent in the wake of her son Sattar Beheshti’s death, a worker activist and blogger who has been killed under torture while in custody. She has issued a call for a national strike in opposition to capital punishment. The campaign against executions in Iran has transitioned into a significant societal campaign with the aim of saving lives and development of women, life, freedom revolution.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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