Iran could overturn death sentences issued against three young men who were arrested at anti-establishment protests last November, one of their lawyers has declared.
“Wait for the news that the implementation of the sentence has been halted,” lawyer Babak Paknia tweeted late on July 15, adding that defense attorneys have been given complete access to prosecutors’ files in the case.
“We have submitted an initial request for the application of Article 477 and after a thorough study [of the case], we will submit another [request]" in an attempt to overturn the death sentences, Paknia said.
Paknia was referring to a provision in Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure that authorizes the head of the judiciary to intervene in finalized rulings deemed to be in violation of Islamic law.
Under that provision, hard-line cleric and judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi could instruct the Supreme Court to issue a new verdict.
The lawyer’s announcement came amid a massive social-media campaign calling for Iran to halt state executions. The online protest has been joined by many Iranians -- including ordinary citizens as well as intellectuals, former politicians, and prominent artists.
Using the Persian-language hashtag #Don’t_Execute -- # اعدام_نکنید -- the campaign was launched in response to confirmation on July 14 by Iran’s powerful judiciary that death sentences have been upheld against Amir Hossein Moradi, 25, Saeed Tamjidi, 27, and Mohammad Rajabi, 25.
The three were among many who were arrested in a brutal crackdown against demonstrators who took to the streets in dozens of cities and towns across Iran in November 2019.
Speaking on July 14, judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili appeared to suggest that the death sentences for the three men could still be reviewed.
“The enforcement of a sentence has a legal process that must be followed. And it is possible that in this legal process, extraordinary retrials.…change the outcome of this and other cases,” Esmaili said in remarks published by the judiciary-affiliated Mizanonline.
The social-media campaign appears unprecedented in its scope and the level of participation of Iranians both within and outside Iran.
Participants are taking a united stand against the death penalty by one of the world's top executioners. Amnesty International recorded 251 executions in Iran during 2019, making Iran second to China for state executions.
Many took to Twitter, which is filtered in Iran, and Instagram, the only social-media platform that has not been blocked in the Islamic republic.
The hashtag #Don’t_Execute in Persian has trended globally on Twitter, being used more than 7 million times.
Other social-networking platforms also were used to share pictures of the three Iranian men on death row and to call for their executions to be halted.
The protests, sparked by a sudden hike in the price of gasoline, focused on Iran’s deteriorating economy, rising poverty, and government corruption. But they quickly turned political with chants against the clerical establishment.
Amnesty International has said at least 304 people were killed in the crackdown.
Authorities also imposed a near total shutdown of the Internet for almost a week in an effort to disrupt the free flow of information.
Moradi, Tamjidi, and Rajabi were sentenced to death after being convicted on charges that include “taking part in destruction and burning, aimed at confronting the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Rights groups say the three were tortured and forced to confess, a practice routinely used by Iranian authorities against political prisoners and security detainees.
Their death sentences are widely seen as an attempt to create fear in society and prevent further protests as the economy continues to suffer from mismanagement, crippling U.S. sanctions, and the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is clear that these three young men are being used as victims to burn at the stake in order to intimidate the rest of the population and silence protest," Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights, said on July 13.
“Who do you represent? When all Iranians say with one voice: Do not execute,” Shiraz city council member Mehdi Hajati said in a July 14 tweet addressing Iranian leaders.
Two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Asghar Farhadi; politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former interior ministry official; human rights activist Bahareh Hedayat; photojournalist Newsha Tavakolian; poet Garous Abdolmalekian; actress Taraneh Alidousti; and composer Keyvan Saket were among the many who used social media to express their opposition to the execution of Moradi, Tamjidi, and Rajabi.
“Nothing shakes and weakens the foundation of the establishment and provokes public revenge and uprising like the shedding of the blood of innocent people,” the outspoken Tajzadeh wrote on Twitter.
Authorities have not publicly reacted to the social-media campaign that made the front page of Iranian daily Hamshahri, which is affiliated with the Tehran municipality.
Netblocks, a website that monitors international Internet outages, reported “significant disruption to multiple networks” in Iran on July 14 as the social-media campaign was unfolding.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the disruption was a move by government censors to counter the online dissent.
Tehran has disrupted or attempted to block the Internet on numerous occasions amid sensitive political developments and widespread anti-establishment protests.