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The Farda Briefing: Iran's Executions Of Protesters Triggers Public Outrage, Draws Criticism From Clerics

University students in Tehran hang a noose in symbolic protest to the hanging of two protesters in Iran on December 13.
University students in Tehran hang a noose in symbolic protest to the hanging of two protesters in Iran on December 13.

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

I'm Hannah Kaviani, a senior broadcaster and editor at RFE/RL's Radio Farda. Here's what I've been following and what I'm watching out for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

Iran has publicly executed two young men over their involvement in the ongoing antiestablishment protests that have rocked the country since September. Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard were both convicted of "waging war against God" and "corruption on Earth."

Shekari, who was hanged on December 8, was accused of "intentionally injuring" a security officer with a weapon and blocking a street in Tehran.

Rahnavard was hanged in the holy Shi'ite city of Mashhad on December 12. He was accused of killing two members of the Basij paramilitary force. Rights groups have said the men were tortured and forced to confess.

Why It Matters: Iran is one of the world's top executioners. But the recent hangings have triggered more anger and outrage than usual. Iranians have taken to social media and the streets to vent their fury. Some street protesters have chanted, "We will avenge the blood of the innocent" following the executions. In Tehran University, a noose was attached to a sheet of paper that read "Hope cannot be hanged," one of several symbolic acts of protest across the country.

The executions have also triggered criticism from senior clerics in Iran. Molavi Abdolhamid, an outspoken cleric, has said the death sentence against Shekari violated Islamic law. Morteza Moqtadaei, a member of the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member chamber of theologians which oversees the work of the country's supreme leader, also criticized the judiciary for handing down the death sentence to Shekari.

What's Next: Iran is likely to continue carrying out executions, which rights groups have said are part of the authorities' crackdown on the ongoing protests. Activists have warned that another young man sentenced to death over the unrest -- Sahand Nourmohammadzadeh -- is at imminent risk of execution. Iran's judiciary says it has issued death sentences to 11 people in connection with the protests, although campaigners said that at least 21 protesters could potentially face the death penalty.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Iran placed sanctions on over two dozen individuals and entities in Europe on December 12, including RFE/RL's Radio Farda. The announcement came ahead of the European Union's decision to impose new sanctions on Tehran. According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, 32 people and entities have been added to the sanctions list for "interfering in the domestic affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran." RFE/RL President and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Fly described the designation of Radio Farda as "an absurd manipulation of the truth, straight out of every authoritarian playbook."

Omid Moayidi, a university student, was shot in the back and then in the head by security forces after participating in an anti-regime protest in the city of Shiraz, according to eyewitnesses who spoke to Radio Farda. Sources with knowledge of the situation told Radio Farda that the authorities had pressured his family to push their official line: that Moayidi was not protesting at all but a "martyr" of the clerical regime who was shot by "rioters" as he was driving his car.

What We're Watching

In a rare move, Iran summoned the Chinese ambassador to Tehran on December 11 to express its "strong dissatisfaction" with a joint statement issued by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and leaders of Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The statement, among other things, calls on Iran and the United Arab Emirates to resolve their dispute over three islands in the gulf through negotiations.

But Iran's Foreign Ministry said the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa were an "integral part" of the country's territory, which "have never and will never be subject to negotiations with any country."

Why It Matters: Since the joint statement was released, Iranian state media affiliated with different political factions have criticized Beijing, with some expressing "distrust" of China. In an apparent bid to repair the damage, Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on December 13. During the meeting, Chunhua expressed support for Iran's national integrity, state media reported.

Since then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018, Tehran has followed a policy of "looking to the East," turning to allies Russia and China. Given the importance of the alliance to both countries, Beijing and Tehran are likely to smooth over any ill-feeling over the recent controversy.

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

Until next time,

Hannah Kaviani

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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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