Outcry after Iran's judiciary upholds death penalty for three protesters

Michael Safi
·3-min read

Iran’s judiciary has upheld the death penalty for three men accused of involvement in last November’s massive anti-government protests, sparking an outcry from human rights groups and a swell of activism against capital punishment on social media.

A spokesman for the Iranian judiciary told an official website on Tuesday that an appeal against the sentences had failed for the trio, who say their confessions were “extracted under aberrant conditions”, according to their lawyers. The lawyers say they have been denied access to the case.

The three men, Saeed Tamjidi, 26, Mohammad Rajabi, 28, and Amirhossein Moradi, 26, were arrested during one of the largest protests in the history of the Islamic Republic, triggered by a threefold rise in petrol prices amid an ailing economy suffocated by US sanctions. Rights groups have estimated at least 300 protesters were killed in the demonstrations and more than 7,000 were arrested.

Rajabi and Tamjidi sought asylum in Turkey after they were initially released, according to activists, but were deported in late December after spending a few weeks in a refugee camp. After a closed trial in January they were convicted of offences including sabotage, armed robbery and illegally fleeing the country.

Rights groups say all three have reported being beaten or tortured in detention including with electric shocks and by being hung upside down for extended periods.

The confirmation that their death sentences had been upheld on Tuesday sparked a surge of online protests including from prominent Iranian social media influencers, actors, film-makers, reformist politicians and athletes, who posted the men’s names or the hashtag “Don’t execute” in Farsi.

They included Hossein Mahini, a player from the national football team, and the former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who warned the country’s rulers not to be stubborn in the face of a public outcry.

“An important part of this system, in case of protests, believe that measures should be toughened so they [protesters] don’t get brazen,” Abtahi wrote. “I have written many time that the system does not have the chance to be stubborn.”

The internet monitoring organisation Net Blocks reported significant outages in parts of the country in the evening as the hashtag started to trend on social media platforms. Iran’s government is increasingly throttling and blocking internet access in response to widespread dissent or calls for demonstrations.

The trio’s lawyers say they are urgently calling for a judicial review, with fears the men could be imminently executed. “We have repeatedly stated that we have not been permitted to defend [our clients] and that they have no information about their trials,” the lawyers said in an open letter posted online.

Iran executed about 251 people last year, according to Amnesty International, the second highest in the world after China. It has issued a spate of death sentences in recent weeks including to the opposition journalist Ruhollah Zam and in recent days has executed a man for repeatedly drinking alcohol and another who was convicted of spying for the CIA.

Additional reporting by Akhtar Mohammad Makoii