Fears are growing that Iran is preparing to execute more protesters after authorities hanged a 23-year-old man from a crane, a public execution less than a month after his arrest and followed by a secretive trial.
Majidreza Rahnavard was sentenced to death by a court in the city of Mashhad, the center of the protests, for allegedly killing two members of the Baski military unit and wounding four others. Basij is part of the country’s feared Revolutionary Guard Corps and has been at the forefront of state repression.
The pro-government Mizan news agency published a collage showing Ranawad hoisted from a metal crane with his hands and feet bound and a black bag over his head. Members of the masked security forces stood guard in front of concrete and metal barriers that held back crowds early Monday morning.
Ranawad was not allowed to choose his own lawyer, challenge the evidence against him or call for a public trial.
Iranian activist network 1500tasvir said Ranawad’s mother was allowed to visit him the night before he was hanged. Neither knew he was about to be executed, according to the group, which tweeted a photo of the two embracing and smiling.
The U.S. State Department said the latest killings showed the clergy leadership was afraid of their own people.
“These harsh sentences … are designed to intimidate the Iranian people, they are designed to silence dissent, and they just underscore how much the Iranian leadership actually fears its own people,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
Iran has carried out public hangings in the past, most notoriously during a mass purge of dissidents in the 1980s and after the disputed 2009 presidential election, but these have become rare in recent years.
State television aired a video in which Ranawad told the court he came to hate the Basij forces after seeing them beating and killing protesters in videos posted on social media. Activists said he was forced to confess under torture and provided a photo of his arms wrapped in slings. Internet outages and reporting restrictions made it impossible to verify the claims from Iran.
Mahmoud Amiri-Moghadam, head of the Oslo-based Iranian human rights group, warned that the public execution of a young man shortly after his arrest showed a “significant escalation in the level of violence against protesters”. .
“After an extremely unfair procedure and a show trial, Ranawad was forced to confess and sentenced to death,” said Amiry-Moghaddam, a leading activist in exile. “Such crimes must have serious consequences for the Islamic Republic.”
With thousands of people detained, there was “serious risk of mass executions” of protesters, he said.
UN human rights experts estimate more than 14,000 people have been arrested since rallies first erupted in mid-September over the death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman who Arrested by Morality Police for allegedly wearing hijab the wrong way. She left police custody in a coma and died in hospital from serious head injuries.
According to Amnesty International, Iran is already the country that uses the death penalty the most in the world after China. Human rights groups warned this weekend that the lives of two other young men sentenced to death – Mahan Sadrat and Sahand Nourmohammadzadeh – were imminent danger.
On Monday, two other people were convicted of crimes punishable by death, and Iranian media said 25 more were facing the death penalty.
Tehran has repeatedly blamed foreign foes for what it called “riots” and blamed “terrorists” for killing dozens of members of its security forces in an uprising that is the biggest crisis the regime has faced since the ouster of the shah in 1979. challenge.
EU foreign ministers imposed new sanctions on Iran on Monday over its “widespread, brutal and disproportionate” crackdown on anti-government protests and the delivery of drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc “will take all possible actions to support young women and peaceful protesters”.
Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s foreign minister, said the sanctions targeted “especially those responsible for executions, violence against innocent people”.
20 people have been sanctioned for human rights violations – assets frozen and banned from entering the EU. Iranian activists see the sanctions as having little impact and have called on Europe to begin deporting Iranian diplomats. Activists have also in the past pressured companies that supply cranes to Iran to halt sales, warning they could be used for executions.
Ranawad was the second person to be executed for involvement in recent demonstrations. On Thursday, Iran hanged Mohsen Shekari, who was convicted of stabbing a security guard and blocking a street in Tehran. His uncle, Mahmoud Shekari, said the marks of torture were visible on Shekari’s face during the interrogation.
His execution for alleged non-fatal crimes has raised serious concerns about the low threshold Tehran uses for the death penalty. A pro-government lawmaker, Zohra Elahian, claimed as many as 7,000 security officials were injured during the demonstrations.
Heartfelt appeals from parents of sons facing the death penalty have appeared online or in newspapers, protesting their children’s innocence and demanding that they be given the basic right to choose a lawyer.
Reformists, still loyal to the ideals of the Islamic Republic, have been warning hardliners for weeks that they need to listen to and respond to the protests, or see a majority of the alienated population demanding the overthrow of the entire post-1979 system.
At least 488 people have been killed since the demonstrations began in mid-September, according to Iranian human rights activists, who have been following the protests. Another 18,200 were detained by the authorities.
The Associated Press contributed to this report