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What “no mercy” means inside Iran: Sham trials, executions and targeting celebrities in a crackdown against protests

For months it seemed the regime wasn’t sure how to respond to an uprising. Now the answer is clear.

This retribution is what appears to be underway in Iran.

Those sentenced to death

The Iranian government complains frequently that although its punishments may be harsh, it is wrongly accused by the international community of arbitrary justice. Officials often claim that the regime is strictly following the law. However, with capital crimes on the books with such vague labels as “war against God” or “corruption on earth,” interpretation of the law is broad. Justices are known to exercise wide discretion, particularly when it comes to capital punishment, which under Sharia Law can include hanging, execution by firing squad, stoning or even being thrown to the ground from a high elevation.

Nothing random about the shootings

In other parts of the world, when the security forces of an authoritarian regime open fire on a demonstration, the dead are often those unfortunate enough to have been caught in the crossfire. But in today’s Iran, there may be a more systematic killing underway.

The targeting of celebrities may also be designed to send a message: Earthly fame is of little consequence when the offense is a crime against God.

Protesters hold flags and posters of Iranian hip-hop artist Toomaj Salehi, who was arrested for backing anti-government protests. A group of Iranian supporters staged a protest calling on the Dutch House of Representatives to close the Iranian Embassy in the Netherlands and to expel its diplomats. The move was part of ongoing protests both in Iran and around the world following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin, who was arrested for improperly wearing her hijab. Police claim that she suffered a cardiac arrest while being questioned; however, her injuries indicated otherwise.

Rostami was known for bringing medicine to those injured during the demonstrations. Her hospital, along with several others in the city, had gained a reputation for being unsafe; patients wounded while protesting were being plucked from their beds by riot police and hauled off to prison. Even ambulances were turning into death traps, carrying some of the injured directly to jail rather than to hospital. This has prompted a number of doctors to treat people at their homes, often at great personal risk. Rostami is not the only doctor to have disappeared.

In custody — and in fear

The thousands of other Iranians in custody are being held on lesser charges — meaning, neither “war against God” nor “corruption on earth.”

Women are at particular risk, for two reasons: Sexual assault is not protected by Iran’s Islamic Penal Law, and the crime is sometimes used to frame the women themselves. If a rape is not proved by four male witnesses, a woman’s complaint under Sharia Law becomes a confession of adultery, punishable by flogging or stoning.

Human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, herself incarcerated in Evin Prison, wrote a letter to the BBC to mark the 100th day of the protests in which she described the sexual assault suffered by many of the women inmates. It was, she wrote, her duty to bring to international attention the gravity of these assaults, and the iniquities of the regime’s interpretation of Quranic laws. Sexual abuse has been a common practice in Iran for decades, but its incidence has risen significantly as more women have been arrested.

Complaints lodged by the inmates, whether men or women, are regularly ignored and denied by the Iranian authorities. Mohammadi wrote her letter despite the fact that it put her at risk of additional years in detention beyond the 16 she already faces; she said she believed that speaking out was worthwhile and that global media attention would make a difference.

So far, the regime appears immune to foreign condemnation.

More executions expected

In his Dec. 27 speech, Raisi vowed that “no mercy” would be shown to the anti-government protesters.

And while the police are pressuring families of the detained to remain silent, social media in Iran is filled with clips, often posted by the mothers of the condemned, pleading to keep the names of their children alive.

Meanwhile, in Isfahan, Nasr-Azadani’s hometown, a gallows has been set up in a small square, anticipating a public hanging. And outside Ghobadlou’s prison in Karaj, crowds have gathered in vigil for the past few days.

Thus far, the international outcry over the recent executions and death sentences has elicited no comment from the Iranian regime. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, warned that unless “the political cost of the executions is increased significantly, we will be facing mass executions.”

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