Iran issues first known death sentence linked to uprising

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An Iranian court has sentenced an anti-government protester to death for the first time since the alleged police killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in September set off the longest major demonstrations against Iran’s cleric-led security state.

Protesters have been calling for a change in Iran’s leadership and an end to decades of gender discrimination and state impunity. Iranian authorities met the protests with violence and demanded harsh punishments for those who took part.

Iran’s revolutionary court handed down the death sentence Sunday, according to Mizan, the news site of the country’s judiciary. The protester was accused of setting a government building on fire and charged with “war against God” and “corruption on earth,” as well as acting against national security.

A separate branch of Iran’s revolutionary court sentenced five other unnamed defendants to up to 10 years in prison for violating national security and disrupting public order, according to Mizan. The rulings can be appealed.

Experts explain what exactly Iran’s morality police do, and why women are risking their lives on the front lines to fight against it. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

There is little expectation of fair trials for detained demonstrators, bystanders and chroniclers of the uprising. Iran’s judicial system is stacked against the accused and dominated by the country’s security services. Rights groups warn that these are sham trials, with detainees often forced or tortured into providing false confessions based on made-up evidence.

Protesters arrested in Iran face a justice system stacked against them

More than 15,000 Iranians have been arrested and several hundred killed in nearly two months of anti-government protests, the activist news agency Hrana estimates. Iranian authorities, who claim that Amini died of preexisting medical conditions, have framed the protests as riots incited by third-party countries to destabilize Iran.

A number of protesters face charges that can carry the death penalty. They include Toomaj Salehi, a rapper who was arrested after taking part in the protests and releasing music that supported their cause, and Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, the two female Iranian journalists who helped break the story of Amini. Authorities have accused the pair, without evidence, of being CIA agents. They have been held in Tehran’s Evin prison complex — which is notorious for alleged widespread human rights violations — since late September.

The family of another prominent detainee, activist Hossein Ronaghi, said Sunday that his life was in danger after he was transferred to a hospital in Evin prison and they lost contact with him. Ronaghi is on a hunger strike to protest his arrest on Sept. 24. Ronaghi’s family said that he suffers from a kidney condition and that both his legs were broken while in jail.

First, Iran came for a rights activist. Then for his family and friends.

When death sentences are issued for political prisoners in Iran, they are not always carried out, and can sometimes be commuted. But the threat of death is real: In 2021, Iran executed at least 314 people, according to Amnesty International — the second-highest known number of executions after China. The true number is likely higher.

Sunday’s sentence is the first known to be linked to this year’s protests. Experts affiliated with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) called on Iranian authorities last week “to stop using the death penalty as a tool to squash protests” and “to immediately release all protesters.”

In their statement, the experts said they feared that Iranian authorities would target “women and girls, who have been at the forefront of protests, and especially women human rights defenders, who have been arrested and jailed for demanding the end of systemic and systematic discriminatory laws, policies and practices.”

Iran charges female journalists who helped break Amini’s story with being CIA spies

Other countries have sought to apply pressure on Tehran to stop the targeting of protesters, with more than 40 countries supporting a proposal by Germany and Iceland for the HRC to hold a special session on human rights in Iran.

On Monday, the European Union and Britain announced further sanctions against Iranian officials and entities involved in repressing protesters.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement that the sanctions send “a clear message to the Iranian regime” that “the violent crackdown on protests must stop and freedom of expression must be respected.”

On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron met with four female dissidents from Iran and told them he respects and admires “the revolution they are leading.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry criticized the move, calling it “a flagrant violation of France’s international responsibilities in the fight against terrorism and violence.”

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