Iran protests: five sentenced to death over killing of paramilitary member

Iranian authorities have sentenced five people to death for allegedly killing a member of a paramilitary force affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard, state media reported. 11 others received prison sentences.

The 13 men and three minors – none of whom have been identified – were charged with killing Ruhollah Ajamian, a member of the Basij, a paramilitary volunteer branch of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, according to the report from IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, on Tuesday.

The alleged killing took place in Karaj, near Tehran, on 12 November when a group of men chased and attacked Ajamian with knives and stones, the report said. The IRNA report refers to “rioters,” a term commonly used by the government to refer to protesters. Anti-government demonstrations were taking place in the area at the time.

The sentencings come amid months of anti-government demonstrations that have been violently suppressed by Iran’s security forces. The protests, now entering their third month, were sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Demonstrations have since escalated to call for the downfall of Iran’s clerical rulers, posing one of the most serious challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution.

The five sentenced to death on Monday were charged by Iran’s revolutionary court. Three boys were charged by Iran’s criminal court, according to the report. Judiciary spokesperson Masoud Setayeshi, who is cited in the report, provided no evidence to support any of the accusations.

IRNA said their sentences – the longest being 25 years – can be appealed.

Iran’s revolutionary court regularly hands out death sentences. The court was established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. According to Amnesty International, Iran executed at least 314 people in 2021, more than half the total state executions recorded across the Middle East that year.

Last week, Iranian authorities executed four people it accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency. It provided no evidence to the public for any of the four men’s alleged crimes.

Also on Tuesday, the country’s semi-official state news agency, Tasnim, said authorities had arrested 12 people it accused of being linked with “anti-revolutionary” foreign agents in Germany and the Netherlands.

According to an Islamic Revolutionary Guard statement cited by Tasnim, the group was planning to procure weapons and act against the country’s security. No further details were provided.

Iran regularly arrests and sentences people on charges related to espionage and has accused western countries of driving the protests. So far, at least 473 people have been killed and 18,200 others arrested in the demonstrations and the security forces crackdown that followed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the demonstrations.

Tuesday also marked the second day of a three-day nationwide strike called for by the protesters. In posts circulating on social media, demonstrators asked businesses to close and called on people to stop using banks. The level of participation was unclear, but in neighbourhoods in northern Tehran most shops were closed on Tuesday afternoon and there was a heavy security presence.

Iran’s judiciary chief, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi, on Monday ordered the arrest of anyone encouraging the strike or trying to intimidate shops into shutting down. According to Tasnim, authorities in the southern city of Shiraz shut down a pharmacy after it reportedly refused to sell items to patients on Monday.

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