Tuesday , 6 June 2023

Protest Crackdown: From Verbal Violence to the Gallows

Iranwire – The number of executions in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been surging relentlessly. According to the United Nations’ Human Rights Office, on average over 10 people have been put to death each week in Iran since the beginning of 2023. “At this rate, Iran is worryingly on the same track as last year when around 580 people were reportedly executed,” said UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk. “This is an abominable record, particularly when you consider the growing consensus for universal abolition of the death penalty.”

Depending on the occasion, officials of the Islamic Republic address the opposition in different languages. Following nationwide protests, their (sometimes) conciliatory words have turned into harsh threats

To lay the groundwork for this “abominable” surge, officials of the Islamic Republic have raised the level of verbal violence to new heights

Depending on the occasion, officials of the Islamic Republic address the opposition in different tones. Ahead of elections, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has kindly invited “even those who do not accept the regime” to vote, but, in different situations, opponents to the regime have been called mercenaries of foreign government and threatened with execution.

Since the start of the nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, Islamic Republic officials and their mouthpieces have little by little turned up the volume of threats against opponents.

The Regime’s Mouthpieces

Among Iranian political figures, there are those who always use a more violent tone than others, no matter what the occasion. They include the principalist former member of parliament Hamid Rasaee, who recently called for the execution of popular actress Taraneh Alidoosti. She had used Instagram to implore the United Nations and other international institutions to intervene and save the lives of three men who were ultimately executed on May 19.

At the height of the student protests in support of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement, Rasaee called the protesting students at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology “thugs” and demanded that they be expelled from the university and be banned from leaving Iran.

Almost simultaneously, Amir Hossein Sabeti, the host of TV show Jahan Ara and the former head of the Student Basij at Tehran University’s School of Law, also called the students “thugs” and wondered why the Islamic Republic continues to “pay their expenses.”

Hossein Shariatmadari, managing editor of the hardline newspaper Kayhan, a mouthpiece of the regime, called the protesters “rented hoodlums” and claimed that some of them were “terrorists.” He even harshly criticized Islamic Republic’s security officials of “dereliction of duty.” He also called the celebrities who have supported the demonstrators “traitors” and compared them to “Islamic State troublemakers.”

The same kind of language is also used by Hassan Abbasi, a conspiracy theorist who heads the Revolutionary Guards’ think-tank “Center for Borderless Security Doctrinal Analysis.” The same can be said about the columnists of government-affiliated newspapers such as Javan and Hamshahri.

From Friday Prayers Sermons to Statements by MPs

The Islamic Republic has used Friday Prayers sermons to provide ideological guidelines to its supporters and, little by little, Friday Imams have adopted a more violent tone toward the protesters. Over the past few weeks, they have been saying that they deserve to be executed, just like terrorists.

One of them is Ahmad Alamolhoda, Mashhad’s Friday Imam and President Ebrahim Raisi’s father-in-law.

In October 2022, a few weeks after the start of nationwide protests, he said that protesters can use “permitted platforms” to express their criticisms. But a few weeks later, he said this about the protesters, “If a mercenary has joined the Islamic State’s second army and plans to be an actors in the American scheme, action shall be taken against him.” On another occasion, Alamolhoda denounced a “American plan” to “attack the people with thugs and ruffians from one direction and with prostitutes from the other.”

And in a sermon delivered around a month after the protests started, Tehran’s interim Friday Imam Ahmad Khatami asked the judiciary to “take action against these rioters in a way that they would never again organize a riot.” “No mercy must be shown toward those who were, or are, the ringleaders of the riots and are paid to write slogans or act against national security,” he said. “They must be punished with the maximum sentence.”

It seems that these harsh speeches served two goals: to prepare the public for death sentences against the protesters and to try to unite officials over the way of handling the demonstrations.

A statement by 227 members of parliament in November last year called on the judiciary to issue and carry out death sentences against those who are “waging war against God.”

In a press conference, judiciary head Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei agreed with the execution of a number of demonstrators and called on judges to speed up the trials of those arrested during protests.

The Revolutionary Guards’ Tribunes

Since the very beginning of the protests, security and intelligence agencies of the Islamic Republic used the same tough and revengeful language against the protesters. Speeches by Revolutionary Guard commanders gave no hint of any willingness to show lenience and their words became harsher as time went by. Finally, they explicitly endorsed extreme violence against the protesters.

The favorite propaganda line of the Revolutionary Guards to justify the use of extreme violence against the protesters was to compare them to terrorist groups, warning that if the Islamic Republic disappears the Islamic State would take over Iran.

In a statement in early December, the Revolutionary Guards announced it would show no hesitation in taking decisive actions against “rioters and the enemy’s mercenary terrorists.”

The same tone was used by security agents in the streets. On October 31, when security agents descended on Ekbatan Town in western Tehran to suppress protests, one of them used a loudspeaker to tell the protesters, “I swear to God: if necessary we would cut the heads of our own wives and children but we won’t allow anything bad to happen to this country.”

Extralegal Threats by the Interior Ministry

The Ministry of Interior has no judicial power but its officials in October 2022 threatened the protesters with swift action and punishment.

On October 12, Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mir-Ahmadi, a Revolutionary Guards officer, said that the arrested protesters would be swiftly tried and handed very harsh sentences. In his statements, Mir-Ahmadi simply ignored the law that gives such powers to the judiciary, not to the Ministry of Interior and its officials.

In a speech around a month later, Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ expeditionary Quds Force, claimed that “some of the individuals who were present in the field during recent riots had been trained in eight countries opposed to the Islamic Republic.” He also claimed that all groups that opposed the Islamic Republic, from Komalah (Kurdistan’s Organization of the Communist Party of Iran) to the “hypocrites” of the People’s Mojahedin Organization played a role in the protests.From Islamic Republic officials, it was crucial to hand down death sentences and carry out executions as quickly as possible in order to put an end to the protests. That’s why they tried to connect the protesters to foreign countries and opposition groups.

Following harsh statements by those affiliated with the regime, the judiciary quickly carried out the death sentence of Mohsen Shekari, a young man accused of injuring a member of the paramilitary Basij force.

Shekari was hanged in December in the first-known execution of a protester. Three other demonstrators, Majid Kazemi, 30, Saleh Mir-Hashemi, 36, and Saeed Yaqoubi, 37, were executed on May 29 after being sentenced to death based on forced confessions.

At the start of this new round of executions of protesters, Khamenei clearly expressed the mindset of the regime by saying that punishing the protesters is like putting a rod “over a wound to heal it.”