Home EVENTS Iran’s Clerics Divided Over Executions of Protesters

Iran’s Clerics Divided Over Executions of Protesters

Iran’s Clerics Divided Over Executions of Protesters


TEHRAN — At least 25 Iranian citizens face death sentences since Iranian authorities started dealing with the cases of the thousands of citizens detained during the 2022 protests that swept the country.

So far, seven protesters died as authorities carried out death sentences:

  • Mohsen Shekari was the first protester executed on Dec. 8, 2022.

  • Four days later, Majidreza Rahnavard, a protester from Mashhad, was publicly executed.

  • Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini were executed on Jan. 7, 2023, and three other protesters named Majid Kazemi, Saeed Ya’ghoubi, and Saleh Mirhashemi were executed on Friday, May 19, in Isfahan Central Prison.

The executed protesters mostly faced charges such as “waging war against God” and “corruption on earth,” and they were often deprived of the right to access their chosen attorneys throughout the judicial process.

Human rights activists in Iran also point out that the forced confessions extracted from these individuals were due to torture and physical and psychological abuse by interrogators, and that the judicial institutions of the Iranian government have issued death sentences based on such confessions.

The charges of “corruption on earth” include crimes against the internal or external security of the country. It also encompasses endangering or causing significant harm to the physical integrity of individuals or public and private property.”

According to the Islamic Penal Code in Iran, “any group or association that engages in armed rebellion against the Islamic government, as well as all members and supporters who are aware of the position of that group, association, or organization and actively contribute to its goals, shall be considered Mohareb or “waging war against God,” even if they do not participate in military combat.”

Consequently, many protesters are faced with the imminent risk of a death sentence because, in the view of the judiciary in Iran, they have risen against the Islamic system.

However, Morteza Moghtadaei, a former member of the Supreme Court of Iran who does not support severe punishments against protesters now, argues: “It is possible for someone to be a Mohareb, but that doesn’t mean they should be sentenced to death. If a Mohareb kills someone, yes, they deserve the death sentence, but if they only create fear, even if they are considered Moharebs, they should not receive the death sentence.”

He further states:

“It should not be the case that when citizens are rightfully protesting the current situation, officials obstruct their protest with violence, and when the citizens defend their constitutional right to protest, they are labeled as Mohareb and wagers of war against God.”

On the other hand, in Qom, the religious capital of Iran, some clerics have a different perspective and support the verdicts of the judges and the policies of the government against the protesters, demanding expedited punishment for these individuals. The Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, in a statement expressing support for the judicial authority of the Islamic Republic in the execution of Mohsen Shekari and Majidreza Rahnavard, urges this authority to take even more decisive action for the “exemplary execution” of other protesters whom they label as “Moharebs and corruptors.”

The Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom considers “exemplary execution” as the only appropriate punishment for protesters who have voiced their discontent with the Islamic Republic.

According to many citizens, this indicates that the clerics in Qom, in order to preserve their Islamic system, intend to create fear and terror among the people by imposing severe punishments on protesters and support widespread repression and violence.

This community in Qom also described the displeasure of some clerics against the widespread issuing of such death sentences to protestors as “inverted judgments that make the enemy happy” and labeled them as “a minority of failed political clerics” which refers to clerics who held judicial positions in the Islamic Republic in the past and now criticize the accusations of “Moharebs” and, the issuance and implementation of execution orders for protesters.

The Islamic regime, in its response to the revolutionary movement of “Women, Life, Freedom,” intensified the process of killings and executions after the widespread arrests of trade union, civil, and political activists who faced severe and lengthy sentences. Currently, the regime intends to silence and suppress the Iranian people by swiftly carrying out execution orders.

According to the latest statistics from the Human Rights Organization of Iran, 304 individuals have been executed in Iran in the year 2023 alone, six of them being women.

Since 2010, the Islamic Republic has taken the lives of 7,289 individuals through the punishment of execution. In all issued sentences, judges claim to follow Islamic law. However, not all religious figures endorse such claims, and some believe that politicians within the Islamic Republic system use the name of religion to justify their behavior or advance their goals.

Ebrahim Hojjati is a middle-aged cleric who is invited to speak in various assemblies in Tehran. After performing the evening prayer, he sits on a high chair wearing his long cloak, ready to start his speech for the 30 people seated on the ground before him, gathered to hear his words. He speaks of the kindness and forgiveness of God and questions the systematic violence by the government, which operates under the name of Islam. Amid the admiration and approval of the people, Mr. Hojjati poses a question:

“I need to ask the clergy and religious authorities whether they are aware of the consequences of silence, retreat, and sometimes endorsements that stem from this style of governance in the Islamic Republic, and whether they understand what is happening in terms of the future of religion, clerical authority, and faith formation in Iran?”

Referring to the fact that “these executions are carried out in the name of Islam,” Hojjati says, “This is the result of a particular perspective on religion, and I tell all people that these government executions are not in accordance with the religion of Islam.”

Alongside this cleric, some religious individuals are also distressed by the court rulings against the protesters in Iran, considering this behavior as tarnishing their faith. Ahmad Zare is a 50-year-old man who usually closes his grocery store in East Tehran for half an hour every evening to engage in timely worship at the mosque on Niknaam Boulevard. He is shocked by the recent execution of three young people from Isfahan on charges of waging war against God:

“Execution is not a proper solution for ensuring security and reducing dissatisfaction, as it only increases anger and animosity within society. Executions on charges of enmity against God ‘contribute to more people’s anger and disrespect for religion and its values,”’ says Mr. Zare, on his way back to his shop after prayer time, and adds, “It has been a long time since people have become disheartened because wherever the government mentions religion, it brings strictness and ill-manners. Young people are now less involved in religious activities, and this is the result of the wrong behavior of the ruling authorities.”

Naser Alavi is another cleric from the Qom seminary who has not been supportive of the recent multiple executions and acknowledges that there has been a significant “distance” between the clerical class and the people, and the people of Iran have lost their “trust” in these people. The prominent Qom clerics’ biased stances in support of the executions of the protesters have led to these individuals being placed in an unfavorable position with the people. Now, a resentful gaze is directed towards the clerics, further creating a sense of insecurity among these individuals. Mr. Alavi states that recently it has been heard that many families of clerics, out of fear, tell them not to wear clerical attire in public places, for fear of facing angry reactions from the people. Alavi adds:

“Any execution carried out in the name of religion and under the false pretext of strengthening the foundations of the religious government is like a blow that strikes at the heart of faith and clericalism in Iran, and its prominent effects in recent years are the declining interest of young people in enrolling and studying in seminaries, despite the abundant capacity created to attract them.”

The exponential increase in the number of executions in Iran during the past month continued with the execution of at least 11 more individuals on Friday, the 26th of May. On Friday, in the cities of Kerman, Sanandaj, Urmia, Gorgan, Jiroft, and Maragheh, 11 individuals were hanged to death on charges such as “corruption on earth,” “intentional murder,” and “drug trafficking.” The implementation of such sentences has faced negative reactions from Iranian citizens. In some cases, protesters gathered outside prisons in opposition to the executions, which was considered unprecedented in Iran.


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