The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Iran publicly executes protester tied to anti-government uprising

A photo of Majid Reza Rahnavard, an anti-government protester executed by Iran, is seen at a demonstration outside the German Foreign Ministry on Dec. 12 in Berlin. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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Iran publicly executed a protester in the northeastern city of Mashhad on Monday, a chilling warning to those still participating in the anti-government demonstrations that have swept the country for nearly three months.

Majid Reza Rahnavard, 23, was hanged from a construction crane. A video of the execution spreading across social media shows his suspended body, dressed in white with his hands bound behind him, slowly spinning in the predawn dark as a crowd gathers around.

Rahnavard was convicted of fatally stabbing two members of Iran’s security forces with a knife on Nov. 17, according to Mizan, the official news site of the judiciary. The site published a photo of men in black ski masks at the execution site.

Rahnavard is the second protester to be executed in the past week, and the first to have his body displayed publicly, as the government seeks to crush a national uprising that challenges its rule. Mohsen Shekari, accused of injuring a member of the security forces, was executed on Thursday.

The protests that started after the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini in mid-September in the custody of the “morality police” have become a broad-based movement uniting opponents of clerical rule across class and ethnic lines.

Iran’s regime at an impasse as protest movement defies crackdown

Nearly 500 civilians have been killed and some 18,000 arrested in the unrest, according to estimates by the HRANA activist news agency, but restrictions on reporting make exact numbers difficult to verify. At least 16 people have been given death sentences for their role in the protests, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, based in New York.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said Monday that the European Union will approve a new round of sanctions against Iran.

“Iran has to understand that the European Union will condemn strongly and will take any action we can in order to support Iranian women, to support peaceful demonstrators and, certainly, reject the death penalty,” Borrell said.

A video from Rahnavard’s gravesite shows a handful of women wailing, with one saying “May God curse you” to his executioners.

Rahnavard’s family was not informed about his pending execution, according to 1500 Tasvir, an anti-government group that monitors the demonstrations. His mother visited him in prison recently and she “left smiling and hoping that her son would be released soon,” the group wrote in an online post.

Political prisoners such as Rahnavard are typically tried in revolutionary courts, a parallel legal system that is stacked against the accused. During his trial, Rahnavard confessed to the stabbings, and a video of the alleged incident was shown by the prosecution.

But such trials often rely on fabricated evidence, and defendants are frequently tortured or forced into making confessions and incriminating statements, as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly documented.

“The public execution of a young protester, 23 days after his arrest, is another serious crime committed by the Islamic Republic leaders and a significant escalation of the level of violence against protesters,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights. “Majidreza Rahnavard was sentenced to death based on coerced confessions, after a grossly unfair process and a show trial.”