Iran has executed three men it said were implicated in the deaths of three members of the security forces during anti-government protests, drawing condemnation from rights groups and the EU and risking further international isolation.
Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi and Saeed Yaqoubi were killed on Friday morning, the Tasnim agency reported. Crowds had gathered outside the prison where they were being held on Thursday night as rumours of their imminent executions grew.
Cultural figures inside and outside Iran as well as family members had stepped up a campaign over the past week to halt the executions on the grounds that Iranian authorities had failed to produce definitive evidence of the men’s responsibility for the deaths of two members of the Basij paramilitary force and a law enforcement officer on 16 November.
Families and supporters held nightly vigils outside the Dastgerd prison in Isfahan in support of the three men, who were being held inside. They were given a final meeting with their families on Wednesday, raising fears that their execution was imminent.
Immediately after their execution on Friday, state media re-ran video posts of what were presented as the defendants’ confessions, which Amnesty International said had been extracted by torture.
At least seven people have been hanged in relation to the protest movement that swept Iran in September, and dozens more have been sentenced to death or convicted of capital offences.
The EU said it condemned the executions “in the strongest possible terms” and that it called “once again on the Iranian authorities to immediately end the strongly condemnable practice of imposing and carrying out death sentences against protesters”.
The latest executions “must have serious consequences” for Tehran or dozens of “other protesters will be in danger”, said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of the Norway-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR). “We must make the Islamic republic leaders understand that execution of protesters will not be tolerated,” he wrote on Twitter.
Hengaw, another Norway-based rights group, decried what it described as an “unfathomable wave of executions in Iran”.
The nationwide protests that began last autumn have turned into one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution. They were ignited by the death of the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s “morality police” on 16 September.
Prominent Iranian figures including the actor Taraneh Alidoosti – who was herself jailed for a few weeks in December for publishing a photograph of herself without a hijab – and the footballer Ali Karimi had expressed their concern about the three men’s fate. Rallies in support of them had been held in Berlin, London and Stockholm.
A video showing a group of mothers from the western city of Sanandaj condemning the death sentences was shared on social media.
On Wednesday, a Twitter account published handwritten notes by the men appealing for public support. “Don’t let them kill us,” read one note, which went viral on social media.
Friends of the families of the men said one of them – Kazemi – had been suspended upside down by interrogators and shown a video of his brother being tortured. Kazemi was also allegedly subjected to mock executions at least 15 times.
In an audio message recorded inside Dastgerd prison, Kazemi said: “I swear to God I am innocent. I didn’t have any weapons on me. They [security forces] kept beating me and ordering me to say this weapon is mine … I told them I would say whatever they wanted, just please leave my family alone. I did whatever they wanted because of the torture.”
Kazemi’s sister said in an interview with the Shargh newspaper before the executions: “We demand to see evidence. They should present evidence that shows my brother was present at the time of the murder. The only evidence in this case is statements by others; one says ‘I heard from someone that it was Majid’, and another says that ‘Bahmani told us that Majid was there’.”
“We don’t intend to cause trouble,” she added. “We are neither against the supreme leadership [Iranian government] nor anyone else. We just don’t want our brother’s blood to be unjustly spilled.”
At least 582 people were executed in Iran last year, the highest number since 2015 and well above the 333 recorded in 2021, IHR and the Paris-based group Together Against the Death Penalty said in a joint report in April. More than 220 people had already been executed this year, IHR said recently.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report