Iranian authorities have sentenced five people to death for allegedly killing a member of a paramilitary force affiliated with their Islamic Revolutionary Guard, state media said on Tuesday, despite providing no evidence of their crime. Some 13 men and three minors in total have been charged with the killing of Ruhollah Ajamian, a member of Basij, a paramilitary branch of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, according to a report from Iranian state news agency IRNA.
The 11 people not being sentenced to death have been issued prison sentences for the killing. But judiciary spokesman Masoud Setayeshi, who is cited in the report, provided no evidence to support any of the accusations.
Norway-based non-governmental organisation Iran Human Rights (IHR) condemned the sentences, branding them as a scare tactic by Iran authorities.
IHR Director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam told the AFP news agency: “These people are sentenced after unfair processes and without due process. The aim is to spread fair and make people stop protesting.”
The identities of the 16 alleged killers were not disclosed by IRNA.
The news agency added that their sentences, the longest of which reaches 25 years, can be appealed. The alleged killing occurred in Karaj, near Iran’s capital of Tehran, on November 12.
Prosecutors claimed a group of men chased and attacked Mr Ajamian, 27, with knives and stones. The attackers, who the government claimed stripped Mr Ajamian naked before killing him, had been paying tribute to a killed protester, Hadis Najafi.
The IRNA report referred to the protesters as “rioters”, a term often used by the government to describe the thousands across Iran protesting the government’s authoritarian laws on women’s clothing.
Anti-government demonstrations were taking place in Karaj at the time of the killing.
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The protests, which are now entering their third month, were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in police custody. Ms Amini, who came from the oppressed Kurdish region of the country, was visiting Tehran when she was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf incorrectly.
Her death in police custody, which evidence suggested was due to head trauma as a result of being beaten, spurred outrage from across the country and internationally.
Speaking anonymously to Express.co.uk, an Iranian protester described the fear she felt as a woman whenever she saw the morality police.
She said: “When you’re on the street, and you see a white van, you’re always scared – even when you’re not in Iran. It leaves my whole body shaking”.
She added that further violence is likely on the horizon for those now being trialled for protesting, saying: “To increase the fear among the protesters, they want to kill a lot of those who got arrested. People say they are going to do it as soon as possible to make people scared.” However, she said protesters were not holding back, despite the violence being inflicted by security forces.
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Sara explained the government killing people “always made them stop – but this time, people are more angry than ever. We finally believe that we can change it, and we don’t stop any more. Now we are all united together”.
The protests have escalated into one of the most serious challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution.
Death sentences are not rare for Iran’s Revolutionary Court. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed at least 314 people in 2021, more than half the total state executions recorded across the Middle East that year.
Last week, Iranian authorities executed four people it accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. It provided no evidence to the public for any of the four men’s alleged crimes. So far, at least 473 people have been killed and 18,200 others arrested in the demonstrations and the security forces crackdown that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations.
Today marked the third day of a three-day nationwide strike called for by the protesters, in which they used social media to ask businesses to close and called on people to stop using banks. While the actual level of participation is unclear, neighbourhoods in northern Tehran reportedly saw the majority of shops closed and a heavy security presence in the area.