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UPDATED Iran: The Politics of the Death Sentences

The Latest from Iran (14 October): Watching Karroubi, Rafsanjani, and the Supreme Leader’s Health

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UPDATE 14 October 0655 GMT: According to Peykeiran, a fifth death sentence over post-election conflict and "subversion" has been handed out to a "Davoud Mir Ardebili". The report claims that Ardebili is not a monarchist, the allegation made against three other condemned men, but merely called a radio station to report union protests.

For several days, post-election news and rumours have swirled around the death penalties being handed out to detainees. There are now four sentenced to hang: three alleged "monarchists" (Mohammad Reza Ali Zamani, Arash Pour-Rahmani, and Hamed Rouhinejad) and one alleged member of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq.

Replying to an Italian journalist on Sunday, I suggested:
A blunt description for a rather blunt move by the regime: as with the Tehran trials from early August and the raids on opposition offices in Sept., this is a flexing of muscle by the President's office, the Revolutionary Guard, and their allies in the judiciary which says, "If you challenge us, we can crush you."

The rather frightening aspect of this move is that it was telegraphed weeks ago. Have a look on our website at the Press TV set-up with the broadcast "confessions" (by the way, I don't anyone in the "Western" media has noticed this) by two of those sentenced to death.

The "safety" for the regime is that they have chosen those to die (the 4th sentence has just been announced) based on two "enemy" groups: 1) monarchists and 2) the terrorist MKO. The clear aspiration is to get widespread Iranian public support for the enforcement of justice. This, in combination with the the continued invocation of the "foreign threat", draws the line against pressure for reforms.

Personally, I think it is an ill-judged move. Even though none of the 4 can bring the immediate sympathy --- because of their membership in suspect organisations --- of a Neda Agha Soltan or a Sohrab Arabi, they will be generic martyrs for the cause, and this could give impetus for the movement. The Internet furour today over the execution of Behnoud Shojai is very strong, and that is for someone who had no ties to post-election protest.

Reflecting on this, I may have underestimated the thought behind the regime's move. It has emerged that Ali Zamani and Pour-Rahmani were arrested in April, before the post-election furour, and the lawyer for Rouhinezhad had said that his client had nothing to do with anti-Government protests.

In these cases, the Government strategy is not a direct assault against Green activists; instead, it is a "guilt by association" move to tarnish the opposition. Featuring these four, the regime puts out the message that the demonstrations are led by retrograde supporters of the Pahlavi dynasty and the terrorist MKO, who have pursued the overthrow of the Islamic Republic since 1979 with sabotage, bombings, and assassinations. At the same time, the line that these groups are led by "foreign agents" continues, with the specific Ali Zamani and Pour-Rahmani "confessions" that they were trained by the Americans and met an Israeli intelligence officer.

So challenge has been set for the Green opposition. Defend the four accused and run the risk of being labelled as apologists for foes of the Islamic Republic. Conversely, leave the four to hang and risk the impression that the movement does not really stand up against injustices and penalties of the State.

I still think the Government's move is misguided because it is so clumsy: from the start of the Tehran trials, it has tried to elevate Ali Zamani as a key figure --- he was the first defendant to testify and, of course, he featured in the mid-August video. The evidence against all four men is thin, with no direct link to any anti-Government operation, and that will only be exposed further if the quartet are put to death.

Nothing is simple in this crisis, however, so the cases will be a test of the political acumen of the opposition movement as the regime continues its attempt to intimidate it out of existence.

Reader Comments (6)

RE: So challenge has been set for the Green opposition. Defend the four accused and run the risk of being labelled as apologists for foes of the Islamic Republic. Conversely, leave the four to hang and risk the impression that the movement does not really stand up against injustices and penalties of the State.

Might this be the reason why we haven't yet heard any specific condemnation from opposition leaders/sympathisers of these death sentences?

October 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine


My thoughts exactly....


October 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterScott Lucas

The opposition's most powerful statements have to date been Karroubi's against torture and for human rights. The opposition must stay on this path and point out that the trials and "confessions" were conducted in illegal ways. While many of us are against the death penalty, death sentences are allowed under Iran's constitution, however our strong criticism is beyond that: we just don't trust this regimes' security and judiciary apparatus and we don't see the hand of the rule of law anywhere through the shameful trials. The regime can continue and expand its oppression, but it can no longer claim any legitimacy except through its self defeating propaganda.

The Chinese regime has a horrific track of human rights abuse, but at least they have steadily improved the daily lives of their citizens (and this way bought off the majority of their population). That's much more than the IRI can claim.

October 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHamid

If the opposition does not have the spine to stand by the rule of law and due process, then it is not worth a darn. Staying silent on death sentence for political prisoners without any proper adjudication, makes opposition, in my opinion, the other side of the same worthless coin.

Mousavi was Silent when hundreds if not thousands of opposition members were executed by Khomeini, his boss. The due process included answer to four questions one of which was if they were practicing Muslim- meaning if they prayed 5 times a day and if they observed Ramadan by fasting. Furthermore, prisoners were tricked to believe that the purpose of these four or five questions was to group and place them in a more compatible environment with other prisoners. Needless to say they were executed and buried on the top of one another in mass graves.

A number of Mousavi defenders have claimed that he has gone through a rude awakening of sort and that he is a changed man. This will be his test.

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Another death sentence for another political prisoner. This is the fifth one and here is the link:
His name is Davod Far Bche Mir Ardabili. His alleged crime? He has called a radio station in Iraq and reported labor unrest and protest. Like others he had not had a lawyer and had been denied of presenting any defense. It seems in Iran even a ham sandwich can be executed.

October 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

[...] Information about Those Sentenced to Death in Iran Enduring America has reported that five men have been sentenced to death for participating in the post-election [...]

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