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As political unrest continues to spread throughout the Middle East, two of Iran’s top opposition leaders have accused the Islamist regime of rapidly increasing the number of executions in a deliberate effort to intimidate the country’s reform movement.
Specifically, the increase in executions is seen as a direct attempt by the Iranian government to stifle opposition by those who feel empowered by the ongoing upheaval in Egypt and Tunisia.
The accusations were levied by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, both former Iranian presidential candidates. In a statement released on Iran’s reformist website Tagheer, the men wrote that the Iranian government was increasing executions in order to “intimidate the nation and further isolate Iran on the international stage.”
Both men lost the June 2009 presidential election to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a vote fraught with allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The subsequent public outcry spawned a wave of open protests against the Islamist regime, dubbed the Green Movement.
Mousavi and Karrubi’s charges come at the same time the United Nations released a report also condemning the Iranian regime’s record number of executions. The report cited the Iranian government’s execution of 67 people in January 2011, putting it on pace to quickly eclipse the 179 executions that took place in 2010.
However, since the Iranian government does not release information on the number of death sentences carried out, the UN figures were gleaned from Iranian press reports. As such, some have surmised that the number is far too low. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has placed the number of executions in January 2011 at 97. Mousavi and Karrubi have placed the overall number of executions in 2010 at more than 300.
In addition to the high number of executions, the UN and opposition leaders fear that those being killed are not just criminals, but dissidents who have participated in the anti-government protests. According to UN spokesperson, Navi Pillay, “Dissent is not a crime. It is absolutely unacceptable for individuals to be imprisoned for association with opposition groups, let alone be executed for their political views or affiliations.”
Compounding the issue is the belief that those being executed have also not been given fair or complete trials. According to Aaron Rhodes, a spokesperson for International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “The issue is not whether crimes occur in Iran, but whether death sentences are based on real trials, with real evidence, and real cases presented by lawyers.”
For its part, the Iranian government has been adamant that those arrested and executed were so dealt with due to their criminal activities, mostly connected to charges of drug smuggling. Furthermore, the government claims that every legal option available for those defendants had been exhausted.
Despite those claims, Iran’s actions led Pillay to say, “I am very dismayed that instead of heeding our calls, the Iranian authorities appear to have stepped up the use of the death penalty.” However, for those who have been on the receiving end of Iranian beatings during the Green Movement, the allegations come as little shock.
Those anti-government protests, which had died down by February 2010 after brutal violent crackdowns by Iranian security forces, were followed by purges of opposition supporters in universities, government offices and media outlets. Since early 2010 the regime has prosecuted over 100 dissidents and political figures, placing most of them on televised mass trials.
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