Ashoura protesters at risk of execution in Iran

Amnesty International has urged the Iranian authorities not to sentence to death protesters arrested during religious commemorations last month. At least five demonstrators arrested during protests on Ashoura, 27 December, have been charged with moharebeh (enmity against God), which carries the death penalty. Amnesty International fears they could be tried imminently. The authorities have said that “rioting and arson” amounts to moharebeh, a criminal offence usually used against those who take up arms against the state. On Friday, Tehran Prosecutor General Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi reportedly confirmed the five to be members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization (PMOI), an opposition group based in Iraq.  The PMOI has confirmed to Amnesty International that five people – who all have children in the PMOI in Iraq – have been detained since the Ashoura protests. These are Ali Mehrnia, 70, Parviz Varmazyari, 54, Majid Rezaii, Alireza Nabavi and Ali Massoumi. “The offences the protesters are accused of do not amount to the ‘most serious crimes’ for which the death penalty may be applied under international law.  Even if they have committed such offences, they should not face the death penalty if convicted,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. “The authorities should ensure that anyone suspected of criminal offences related to the demonstrations, including stone throwing or acts of arson, is tried promptly and fairly, in proceedings which meet international fair trial standards, and that no one is sentenced to death.” The news comes amid signs that the Iranian authorities may be planning to increase the use of the death penalty as a means to deter demonstrations. On 4 January, a group of 36 MPs proposed a motion to amend the Code of Criminal Procedures so that those convicted of moharebeh would be executed within five days of their conviction. Such a move would compromise the effective exercise of a defendant’s right to appeal. The authorities have accused various opposition groups of orchestrating the unrest on Ashoura, notably the Baha’is, an unrecognized religious minority. At least 13 Baha’is have been arrested from their homes since the demonstrations. The Baha’i community denies any such involvement. In December, the lawyers for seven Baha’i leaders detained without trial for more than a year were informed their clients will be tried on Tuesday. They face charges of espionage and could be sentenced to death.  Amnesty International believes that all 20 are prisoners of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally. “Iranians should be free to assemble in peaceful protests to express their opinions, including about the government and human rights violations, and not face excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and unfair trial, or risk execution,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.  “Instead of allowing demonstrations to take place, the Iranian authorities are locking up anyone of a different viewpoint from theirs and are looking for scapegoats to blame for the unrest”.