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The Farda Briefing: Families Of Prisoners On Death Row Stage Protests Amid Soaring Executions

Relatives of people sentenced to death in Iran protest outside the country's judiciary headquarters earlier this week.
Relatives of people sentenced to death in Iran protest outside the country's judiciary headquarters earlier this week.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

For the past week, the families of prisoners on death row have been staging protests to demand that authorities halt their pending executions.

Dozens of protesters have rallied in front of Iran's judiciary headquarters in Tehran and outside the Islamic Revolutionary Court in the city of Karaj.

Amateur videos and images from the protests have shown protesters holding signs that read “Don’t execute” and “No to executions.”

On September 12, which was to be the sixth consecutive day of the protests, law enforcement and security officers dispersed the demonstrators and arrested several of them.

The protests came amid a significant rise in the number of executions carried out in Iran under hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi and judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, a former intelligence minister.

Amnesty International and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran warned in July that Iranian authorities have embarked on an execution spree, killing at least 251 people between January 1 and June 30.

The rights groups said that, if executions continue at the current pace, they will soon surpass the total of 314 executions recorded for the whole of 2021.

Why It Matters: Public protests by the families of prisoners on death row are rare in the Islamic republic, which has one of the highest rates of executions in the world.

Desperation appears to have forced the families of those sentenced to death to rally, with the demonstrators hoping to pressure the authorities to drop the sentences.

The protests prompted Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard to call for Iran to end the death penalty.

What's Next: The protests could raise public awareness about Iran’s use of the death penalty, which has been abolished in 144 countries around the world.

Criticism of the executions has increased in recent years.

In 2020, Iranians participated in an unprecedented social media campaign using the hashtag #don’t_execute, which resulted in the overturning of the death sentences of three young men arrested during nationwide 2019 anti-government protests. Last week, the lawyer of the three men suggested that they could be released “conditionally.”

Stories You Might Have Missed

• Iranian authorities have been accused of secretly implementing a draft bill that is designed to intensify online censorship and limit Internet access. The proposed legislation has been met with fierce criticism inside the country, where the government already blocks tens of thousands of websites and regularly cuts Internet connectivity.

The Supreme Cyberspace Council last week sidestepped the parliament and adopted three articles of the unapproved law. The move raised concerns that the contentious bill is gradually becoming a reality. If approved, the legislation would hand over control of Iran's Internet gateways to the armed forces and criminalize the use of virtual private networks (VPNs), which many Iranians use to bypass state censorship of the Internet.

• Imprisoned Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Venice International Film Festival over the weekend for his latest film, No Bears.

Panahi, 62, was imprisoned in July after a Tehran court ruled he must serve a six-year sentence he was handed more than a decade ago for supporting anti-government demonstrations.

Iranian actor Reza Heydari told journalists after the award ceremony that Panahi had sent him a message from prison. "He told me not to get into trouble for him," said Heydari, who plays one of the main characters in No Bears. "The award he has received brings a message -- an artist in a prison or outside a prison can still produce his message because he loves art and he loves cinema."

What We're Watching

For the first time, Kyiv has said it downed an Iranian Shahed suicide drone used by Russia in its war in Ukraine. Iran has not publicly reacted to the claim, which follows an August 29 report in The Washington Post suggesting that Russian cargo planes have picked up the first batch of Iranian-made drones for use in Ukraine.

Why It Matters: The reported downing of an Iranian drone in Ukraine is likely to increase concerns over Tehran’s drone program and the country’s deepening ties with Russia.

It comes a few days after the United States imposed sanctions against an Iranian air transportation company it accused of coordinating military flights between Iran and Russia, including for transporting drones and related equipment. Three other Iranian companies were also sanctioned for the production of drones.

That’s all from me for now. Don’t forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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