Once again, the determination of the international community was tested by the clerical dictatorship on Friday, November 24, when it carried out the execution of a 17-year-old prisoner, Hamidreza Azari. The incident came at a time when Iranian authorities were already under scrutiny for an accelerated pace of executions in general, which many experts view as an element of Tehran’s ongoing repressive response to the nationwide uprising that began last year after a young woman was killed by “morality police” for allegedly wearing her mandatory hijab too loosely.
The regime’s so-called legal system, based on fundamentalist interpretations of Sharia, considers boys to be legally responsible at around 15 years of age, though international law describes a minor as anyone under the age of 18 and categorically bars the execution of such individuals. Iranian officials, including the country’s own so-called human rights monitor, have variously dismissed the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arguing that domestic laws override international law if the former is based upon preexisting cultural or religious traditions.
Consequently, the regime is one of very few countries that still routinely implement the death penalty for persons who were under 18 at the time of their alleged offense. However, given the sensitivity of the issue and the volume of international outcry that is expected to follow each such incident, the Iranian judiciary has made it standard practice to wait until condemned minors have reached adulthood before their executions are carried out.
However, Azari’s execution appears to be a departure from that practice, although state media reportedly misrepresented the prisoner’s age to deflect criticism.
In the 1980s, the clerical dictatorship gained notoriety for indiscriminately executing numerous minors. Now, the question arises whether the state-sanctioned killing of Hamidreza Azari is a testing of the waters for ongoing efforts to reinstate the practice, aiming to instill fear in the predominantly restless youth of the country.
The timing of that message is also especially conspicuous because Azari was put to death on the same day as Foreign Ministry spokesman Naser Kanaani held a press conference in which he responded dismissively to a European Parliamentary resolution condemning the regime’s human rights violations.
In #Iran, the word prison is synonymous with torture & execution. The execution of juvenile offenders is another atrocity the mullahs regime continues to commit, for which reason Amnesty International has criticized it as “executioner of children”https://t.co/7BGBjXltES pic.twitter.com/KExw9rJX4w
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) August 28, 2021
Meanwhile, 21-year-old Milad Zohrevand was reportedly executed by hanging on Thursday morning, November 23, in Hamedan. His execution is linked to the events of last year’s uprising. Despite the widespread detention of tens of thousands and the sentencing of dozens to death during the extended 2022 uprising, the regime has chosen a more measured approach to publicizing the executions, at least in what is disclosed to the public.
Zohrevand’s execution was evidently carried out in secret but was confirmed by human rights groups and multiple sources inside the clerical regime. Even the defendant himself was reportedly not informed in advance of the plans for his executions and was prevented from receiving final visitors or speaking to his family by phone. This is in keeping with the denial of due process that characterized his case and that of many other political prisoners who are denied basic rights such as independent legal representation. Zohrevand’s mistreatment even continued after his death, with authorities withholding his body from family and burying him on their own, without proper ceremony.
Despite being originally from Malayer, a city located 83 km southeast of Hamadan province’s capital, the regime chose to bury Milad in the city of Hamedan. This decision aimed to thwart any efforts by his family and friends to organize a public ceremony, which the regime feared could escalate into protests. Additionally, security forces took measures to prevent his family from relocating his body by pouring concrete over his grave.
Although family members were ultimately permitted to visit his grave, his mother Afsaneh Zohrevand was even detained for several hours as punishment for wailing at his makeshift funeral which took place under heavy police presence.
Furthermore, Iranian authorities carried out the secret execution of Ali Saber-Motlaq. While Motlaq had previously served time as a political prisoner in the 1980s, his execution represents a stepped-up retaliation for his alleged involvement with the leading pro-democracy opposition group – and organizer of many of last year’s protests – the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
— People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) (@Mojahedineng) November 29, 2023
Ayoub Karimi, a Kurdish political prisoner held in Ghezel Hesar, was executed on Wednesday, November 28, despite prior warnings from numerous human rights organizations. Kurds, as an ethnic group, have experienced executions at a rate that surpasses their proportion in the overall population. However, this imbalance is even more pronounced among the Baluch ethnic minority, who reportedly comprise less than five percent of the national population but represent approximately a third of all executions.
Both ethnicities share a common thread in their steadfast resistance against the clerical regime, positioning them as trailblazers in the 2022 uprising. Their resilience has not only made them symbols of hope but has also served as a source of encouragement for the entire oppressed nation.
In essence, the recent actions of the regime indicate a gradual and deliberate effort to tighten its bloody grip over the restive society. The regime is increasingly testing and implementing more aggressive measures, leading to heightened human rights violations. Given the deafening silence of the international community, the regime perceives itself as having a free rein domestically.
If global leaders persist in treating human rights concerns merely as a symbolic leverage tool to serve their own interests, we should anticipate a recurrence of the distressing events from Iran’s past decades, potentially leading to even more severe consequences, with mass migration being among the least of them.