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Iran’s regime won’t be easily toppled

The public hanging of a protester shows the state’s response to mass demonstrations is becoming more violent.

By Megan Gibson

After three months of sweeping demonstrations, Iran’s regime executed a second protester this morning (12 December) on charges of “waging war with God”. The protester, Majidreza Rahnavard, was publicly hanged after being arrested on 19 November and accused of stabbing two members of the regime’s security forces to death. But human rights groups have pointed to the speed with which Rahnavard was prosecuted – just over three weeks separated his arrest and execution – as a clear indication of the regime’s use of bogus trials.

Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights, tweeted today: “Rahnavard was sentenced to death based on coerced confessions, after a grossly unfair process and a show trial. This crime must be met with serious consequences for the Islamic Republic.” He, along with other human rights groups and Western observers, have warned there could be a “mass execution” of protesters. The first demonstrator to be hanged by the Islamic Republic was Mohsen Shekari, a 23-year-old who was killed on 8 December. As many as ten more protesters are thought to be awaiting execution.

The death sentences have so far done little to quell the mass uprising that swept Iran following the murder of Mahsa Amini. Amini, a 22-year-old woman from north-west Iran, was visiting family in Tehran in September when she was detained and reportedly beaten by the regime’s “morality police” on the street for improperly wearing her hijab; she died in hospital three days later. Since then, demonstrations – some peaceful, others violent – have taken place across the entire country. The protests have mostly been led by young girls and women, and called for the end of the violent, oppressive theocratic regime: in videos shared on social media, the crowd’s ​​chants of “Death to the dictator!” – in reference to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei – can be heard. Videos and reports on social media in November showed protesters setting alight the ancestral home of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The regime’s response has been increasingly vicious. Amnesty International estimates that more than 300 civilians have been killed by the country’s security forces, including 44 children; the group also says that the families of those killed are then subjected to arrests, interrogation and intimidation in order to silence them. Protesters who have been wounded by Iran’s security forces in the demonstrations have alleged that authorities are resorting to brutally violent tactics, including blinding those who take to the street by firing rubber bullets and pellets directly into their eyes.

There was brief hope that the Islamic Republic would make a concession to the demonstrations when Western media reported on 4 December that the regime was planning to abolish the so-called morality police following comments by Iran’s attorney general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri. Yet activists and members of international human rights groups were sceptical that any significant change was being considered; and after weeks of unrest, with the anger not dissipating, it’s far from clear whether anything other than the collapse of the regime will satisfy the protests.

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The public executions mark a disturbing turn in the crackdown. If concessions aren’t being considered – or if they would do little to stem the protesters’ anger anyway – the regime has little option but to double down on fear and control. The murder of Amini symbolised the cruelty of the regime; the strength of the subsequent protests has demonstrated the sheer will of the Iranian people. That won’t be crushed, but it’s increasingly clear the regime is prepared to inflict as much pain as possible in its desperation to remain.

This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out every Monday; subscribe here.

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