Iran executes 14 people in one morning, exploiting regional crisis to breed fear

As the US made headlines for its nitrogen gas execution of a murderer, 14 people were executed on one morning at a prison near Iran’s capital, Tehran.

One man hanged this week in Iran was a protester recognised to have severe mental illness. Another was guilty of a non-violent crime.

Exploiting the regional crisis around Gaza as a cover, Iran has sharply escalated its use of the death penalty in recent days.

To protest the executions, imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi went on hunger strike on Thursday, with dozens of fellow women political prisoners joining her. One in her seventies was taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack late on Thursday.

“Execution is not something new in the Islamic Republic. It’s a part of their identity,” said Saeid Golkar, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Tennessee and senior adviser at United Against Nuclear Iran.

“But now, with the world’s attention turned towards the Middle East crisis, they have seized the momentum to escalate executions and instil fear in people. Their belief is in achieving victory through the propagation of fear.”

Narges Mohammadi, a jailed Iranian women’s rights advocate and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, went on hunger strike on Thursday (Photo: Reihane Taravati/AFP)

He anticipates that the Islamic Republic will carry out more executions in the following weeks, taking advantage of the world’s distraction with the escalating tension in the Middle East.

This week, the execution of Mohammad Ghobadlou, a 23-year-old protester acknowledged to be bipolar, sparked widespread outrage. His parents spent the previous night outside the prison and pleaded with the authorities under heavy rain.

His arrest took place after protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of “morality police” in September 2022 due to alleged violations of hijab rules.

Ghobadlou was charged with “waging war against God” for “deliberately” running a car over a group of police officers, allegedly killing one.

“He was young, remarkably young, and brimming with life,” said Habib Daneshvar, Ghobadlou’s former cellmate. “Nowhere in the world, do they execute people with mental disorders.”

“I contemplate how he would have spent his final night in solitary confinement before they hanged him,” he said. “That’s the most unimaginable situation to be in.”

Another prisoner, Farhad Salimi, was executed on Tuesday. Arrested in 2009, he was accused of being a member of a “Salafist group”, a banned religious minority — a charge he vehemently denied.

Salimi’s family was issued a summons for a final visit on Monday. However, upon their arrival at the prison, they were instructed to return the next day.

Rather than experiencing the anticipated final meeting with their loved one, the relatives were met with the distressing news that Salimi had already been hanged.

Fourteen people, mostly on drug-related charges, were also hanged on a single day last week.

Mr Golkar said that the Islamic Republic acknowledges its unstable situation in the aftermath of recent waves of protests and anticipates further occurrences, and its strategy is to prepare for the suppression of future protests, and one tactic involves instilling fear through an escalation of executions.

“They are deliberately executing people in the most brutal way to intimidate their own people,” said Murteza Ahmadi*, a driver in central Isfahan. “But we are not going to take even a single step back from our rights.

“I cannot wait to see the day when they will be brought to justice. That day will come.”

Reza Karimi*, a shopkeeper in Tehran, said: “People are filled with anger. They are hanging our young men to maintain their grip on power. I was on the roof of my house when they executed Ghobadlou and chanted, ‘death to the dictator’. That was all I could do.”

“[Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei is doing the same things as Zahhak was doing. He is a new Zahhak,” he added, referring to a mythical king said to have fed serpents growing out of his shoulders with young people’s brains.

At least 791 people were executed in 2023, a 33 per cent increase from 2022, including 25 women and two children, according to human rights organisations.

Ethnic minorities were overrepresented among those executed, with more than one fifth of those hanged being members of the mostly Sunni ethnic Baluch community.

*Names changed to protect identity