Iran has not sentenced 15,000 protesters to death: what to know

IIn September, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini died three days after being taken into custody by Iran’s morale police. After Amini’s death, protesters took to the streets to demand a change in Iranian leadership and an end to gender discrimination and state impunity for weeks. Now, Iranian authorities are cracking down on those taking part in the protests, leading to violence and the deaths of protesters.

But a false claim that Iran plans to execute 15,000 protesters went viral on social media this week. The message caught on as various tweets and infographics began circulating, including an image that read: “Iran sentences 15,000 protesters to death as a ‘harsh lesson’ for all rebels.”

While the claim isn’t accurate, prominent public figures including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as actors Viola Davis and Sophie Turner, shared the post on their social media.

The problem is that while the Iranian parliament, o Majlis, voted to call for the death penalty for protesters, it’s not up to them. Iran’s judiciary metes out punishments and answers not to parliament but to Iran’s unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here’s what parliament actually voted on; the latest numbers on incarceration and death; and how the world is responding.

How many protesters have been arrested so far?

While numbers are difficult to verify due to a lack of independent reporting in Iran, 15,915 protesters have been arrested and 351 have been killed since the protests began, according to the latest data from the Human Rights Activists News Agency, or HRANA. Javaid Rehman, Iran’s special rapporteur for human rights at the United Nations, also told the United Nations Security Council on Nov. 3 that some estimates of the detained protesters were as high as 14,000, as reported by CNN.

Who are some of the notable arrests?

Protesters arrested include Toomaj Salehi, a rapper whose music incited rebellion; Iranian journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi, who helped break Amini’s story; and Hossein Ronaghi, a prominent blogger and activist who went on a hunger strike to protest his arrest.

Hamedi and Mohammadi have been held in Tehran’s Evin prison complex since late September, while Ronaghi’s family say they have lost contact with him since he was transferred to hospital, claiming both of his legs were broken while he was in jail .

Read more: How Iran’s Moral Police Enforce Strict Interpretation of Islamic Law

What did the Iranian parliament vote on?

Two weeks ago, 227 members of Iran’s 290-seat parliament signed an open letter to the country’s judiciary asking it to hand down death sentences to those protesters who had been arrested, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency first reported. In a statement, Iranian lawmakers called for severe punishment of those who incited the riots and called them “moharebs”. In Islamic law or sharia, “mohareb” means “enemy of God” and carries the death penalty.

How many executions have taken place so far?

Nobody. But Mizan, a news agency in the country, reports that three protesters have so far been sentenced to death in Tehran by Iran’s Revolutionary Tribunal since the movement erupted. The first sentence was handed down to a protester accused of disturbing public order and peace after being accused of setting fire to a government building. The sentences handed down are preliminary and can be appealed, but on a per capita basis, Iran executes more people than any other country in the world.

What is the status of the other protesters?

Uncertain. Sunday also Mizan reported whereas five other anonymous defendants were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for violating national security and disturbing public order. These sentences can also be appealed. Judiciary chief Gholam Hossein Ejei issued a statement last week saying the protesters had “disturbed people’s safety, disrupted their livelihoods and insulted their sanctity” and would be dealt with “firmly and forcefully on the basis of law and equity,” according to the Islamic Republic Official News Agency.

Legal experts say it is impossible in Iran to seek justice for those killed or for detained protesters to receive fair trials. Lawyers often lack the freedom to defend clients tried on political charges and sometimes face false accusations themselves. The judiciary itself is not independent: often, political and religious trials are determined by intelligence agents and agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to Shirin Ebadi, a Nobel peace prize winner who was formerly a judge in Iran. Rights groups also argue that detainees are often coerced or tortured into giving false confessions based on fabricated evidence in show trials.

Read more: What the success of women-led protests says about Iran’s future

How is the world responding?


Protesters participate in a rally organized by the ‘Women Life Freedom Collective’ in solidarity with protesters in Iran on October 22, 2022 in Berlin, Germany.

Maja Hitij-Getty Images

Last week, the UN Human Rights Council issued a statement calling on Iran to stop using the death penalty as a tool to crack down on protests and release the protesters immediately. “We fear that women and girls, who have been at the forefront of protests, and especially women human rights defenders, who have been arrested and jailed for calling for an end to systemic discriminatory laws, policies and practices, may be particularly targeted”. they said.

More than 40 countries are supporting a proposal Germany and Iceland that the Human Rights Council hold a special session on human rights in Iran. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has strongly criticized the Iranian government and said that Germany was “shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people”.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the crackdown by Iranian authorities was “unprecedented”, calling for “a strong diplomatic reaction and sanctions” on those responsible. Likewise, the European Union and Great Britain announced further sanctions against Iranian officials and entities involved in the crackdown on 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 end and freedom of expression must be respected”. Urging Tehran to end the crackdown, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that “the EU strongly condemns the unacceptable violent crackdown on protesters”.

Which is history of executions in the country?

Iran executes more people than any other country except China: Since 2010, 6,885 people have been executed by the Islamic Republic, typically by hanging, according to the Iran Human Rights Organization. Most of those executed are convicted of murder and drug-related offences. Last year, Iran executed 333 prisoners, including at least two children and 10 women.

Capital punishment has deep ties to the regime. In 1988, thousands of political prisoners were executed under Ebrahim Raeesi, the current president of Iran who was the head of the judiciary at the time, and the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Human Rights Watch has said that the mass executions constitute crimes against humanity and are among the most heinous crimes under international law.

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