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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

Iran expected to execute three protesters over killing of police officers

Saleh Mirhashemi, Saeed Yaghoubi and Majid Kazemi
Saleh Mirhashemi, Saeed Yaghoubi and Majid Kazemi have already been found guilty of the murder and have no further grounds for appeal. Composite: Supplied

A recent spate of executions in Iran looks set to continue after authorities released videos of three protesters confessing to the killing of three security officers in the so-called Isfahan House case.

The men have already been found guilty of the murder and have no further grounds for appeal. More than 60 people have been executed in Iran since late April, some for drug offences and many from the region of Balochistan, where the protests have been most intense.

In a further sign of a crackdown, about a dozen human rights lawyers were also summoned to attend a meeting at the prosecutor’s office in Evin jail in Tehran to be told to curtail their activities, according to Sharq newspaper.

One of those summoned, Ali Mojtahedzadeh, said: “If we are looking to create peace in the country, why should a lawyer who is always in the prosecutor’s office be summoned to the prosecutor’s office as an accused?” At least one of the lawyers active on social media has been told she will face charges of “propaganda against the regime”.

The three defendants in the Isfahan House case, Majid Kazemi, Saeed Yaqoubi and Saleh Mirhashemi, have been found guilty of warfare, a more serious offence than murder. They were arrested on 21 November and accused of killing three Basij police officers in Isfahan five days earlier. Their family claim they are innocent, and the only evidence against them is torture-induced confessions.

The latest official videos broadcast on state TV, in which the men incriminate themselves and one another, could be seen as an attempt to prepare the public for their execution. One of the men said he had been influenced by Instagram, and he was grateful to the government for filtering it.

In a released phone call from inside jail to his fiance, Kazemi subsequently said: “We were told to say these things in court all of it under torture. I did not have any gun or do anything.” After the publication of his recorded denial, and with a cousin active in Australia protesting his innocence, he was moved out of the public ward. The men were found guilty in hearings that lasted only four days.

Lengthy contemporary police radio recordings do not appear to back up the prosecution claims that they shot police while on motorcycles.

Last week, the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, called on the authorities in Iran to “halt all executions” and “abolish the death penalty”.

Türk said more than 10 people were being put to death each week in Iran, making it “one the world’s highest executors”. Since 1 January 2023 at least 209 people had been executed, he said, adding that the figure was likely to be higher due to the lack of government transparency. Türk noted this number included a disproportionately high number of minorities.

Iran shocked Sweden a week ago when it executed the Swedish-Iranian man Habib Chaab on the charge of “corruption on earth”, stemming from his role in a deadly attack on an Iranian military parade in Ahvaz in 2018. Iranian agents arrested Chaab in 2018 in Turkey.

Jamshid Sharmahd, a German-Iranian national who was also reportedly arrested outside Iran, is also at serious risk of execution after Iran’s supreme court upheld his death sentence on 26 April. His daughter has been campaigning tirelessly for his life.

Iran on Friday confirmed it had released Bernard Phelan, a 64-year-old French-Irish citizen sentenced to six-and-a-half years in jail two months ago in Iran, along with the French national Benjamin Brière. In a phone call after the release, the Iranian foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, told his French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was “Iran’s red line”, a reference to the likely Iranian reaction of any EU move to proscribe it.

The Iranian foreign ministry also claimed it had received assurances from the Irish foreign ministry that it recognised the IRGC as a force fighting terrorism. There was no confirmation of this by Ireland.

The crackdown comes as Iran is selected to head the social forum of the UN Human Rights Council, a move described as deeply worrisome by the US.

Member states have been told the social forum on 2 and 3 November at the UN’s headquarters in Geneva will be chaired by Ali Bahraini, the Iranian ambassador to the UN in Geneva. The director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, Hadi Ghaemi, described his appointment as “shocking ethical blindness”.

In the now-daily battle to impose the compulsory hijab, the authorities have been ridiculed for putting up banners at the Tehran international book fair with fake quotes from famous authors praising the hijab. One banner quotes the Russian novelist Tolstoy as saying: “The reason for the increase in divorce in Europe is corrupt civilisation, sexual disorders and the lack of hijab.”

Another poster quoted Victor Hugo as writing that the “face combined with dignity and chastity gives a woman such power that the strongest men cannot resist her and makes men submit and bow before a woman”.

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