Fariba davoodi Mohajer,
Carrying out executions before the public eye has become the norm in the Islamic Republic (IR). Every year individuals convicted of different crimes including drug-related crimes, theft, murder or rape, are hanged in public in various Iranian cities. Recently, two young men aged 20 and 23 years, who had been sentenced to death for robbery and the use of knives, were executed in public. The difference this time was the choice of the location at “the Artists’ Park” in central Tehran, near the Artists’ Cultural Center.
Under the banner of public safety and “to teach criminals a lesson,” these executions are carried out on streets, boulevards, cranes or overpasses and are aimed at demonstrating the might and power of the government to suppress. Undoubtedly, the choice of a location, where art exhibitions, film screenings and other artistic activities are held at the cultural center, is not without coincidence. The Artists’ Cultural Center is not just a place where children and the elderly spend their free time; it is a place where young artists come and go, and it is a center for dialogue and education.
Iranian judicial authorities are sending a clear message to the youth and the artists who are engaged in artistic activities in society. The IR’s goal of choosing this location is to threaten and terrorize society while encouraging passivity and indifference. The government officials are indirectly implying that “the next one can be you.” The IR controls and guides society through these actions and suppresses potential social activities even before they are formed.
The authorities who support public executions know very well that repeatedly holding executions in the streets results in the normalization of other forms of violence, including government sanctioned violence. The ugliness of violence becomes normal and the sensitivity of people towards violence is reduced. Executions in streets and parks do not decrease violence but recreates it and legitimizes any violent action by the police to counter violent crimes.
One journalist who reported on the execution at the Artists’ Park told Jaras website that before the execution was carried out, the Artists’ Park was under the control of security forces and heavily policed. A large number of police officers armed with guns, batons and tear gas were present in the park and the executioners wore frightening black ski masks. This occurred in a place where children play and where the people in this residential community go for entertainment. This is a place surrounded by people’s homes and apartments.
In early January of this year, another public execution of two individuals occurred in a soccer stadium and sports complex in Sabzevar. During the days preceding the execution in Sabzevar, an atmosphere of fear and terror could be felt in the city. Long after the execution, people still talked about it and a small city such as Sabzevar was terrorized and shocked as a result of this execution.
Executions before people’s eyes
The deputy prosecutor of Tehran has justified these actions in the media and stated that “Carrying out sentences in public has a deterrent quality and the judiciary deals with criminals, especially rapists, in a rapid and decisive fashion. The judiciary carries out the sentences in public whenever it sees fit.” The statements of the deputy prosecutor illustrate that they are not going to give up on this penal policy. It continues to occur in an uninterrupted fashion in city squares and sports stadiums. The government maintains their policy that before these sentences are carried out, state-run media invites the public to participate in these executions and journalists report on them including with photos and videos. The government understands all too well the mental, social and political effects in spreading terror to all levels of society.
Another pressing issue is that the legal rights of the victims have been ignored and no one discusses the prosecutorial process and lack of a fair trial. Upholding these rights can prevent the death penalty for criminals or at least spare them and their families the violation of respect and integrity through a public execution.
Last week, in an unprecedented move, the judiciary publicly amputated the hand of a 29-year old thief. Although during the past few months, hand amputations had been carried out in different cities for theft, this time the convict’s right hand was cut off in public.
A notable point concerning this amputation was that photographers and reporters were granted permission to photograph and cover it in the news. This demonstrates that those who use such violent actions against criminals are following specific goals by publicizing them in the media. Also, before this sentence was carried out, five criminals, convicted of drug related crimes had been publicly hanged in Shiraz. Two convicts named Aref Asoodeh and Ali Akbar Makaremizadeh Shirazi were hanged in Mosadegh Square, Seyyed Abolghasem Esmaili was hanged in Valiasr Square and the other two were hanged in Kuzehgari Square in Shiraz.
After the amputation sentence in Shiraz was publicly carried out, the prosecutor in Dezful, Sadegh Abu Halal, announced a similar sentence for another convict. This criminal had also been sentenced to the amputation of four fingers on his right hand by the court and he added that the sentence would be carried out soon in public in Dezful. Following such sentences, the Foundation for Tolerance International protested the inhumane actions of the Islamic Republic and expressed worries about the continuation of such punishments. Many Iranian human rights activists have also expressed concerns about the implementation of such sentences.
Countering such sentences requires an international will from the organizations that are sensitive to human rights violations. These violations to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by the Iranian government, will continue if the international community does not show its determination to end them. Without this will, Iranian authorities will continue to apply pressure on the common citizen and control the political atmosphere in the country, and the result will be passivity, public terror and vast control over the people.