Iranian describes life of fear as government plans ‘mass execution’

Iran: Gunshots heard during protests in Karaj

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A wanted Iranian protestor has told of the fear of living under its oppressive regime as the government reportedly looks to order the execution of captured dissidents. On Wednesday, November 2, the Iranian government announced it would be trying over 1,000 arrested protestors in court with the threat of the death sentence. Sara, an Iranian protestor whose name has been changed for anonymity, explained the fear that comes with living as a woman in Iran, and explained their determination to keep up the protests despite the government’s violence. Sara said the regime had put a warrant out for her arrest, and she feared “mass executions” may be on the horizon.

Protests have erupted in Iran since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody after she was arrested by the “morality police” for allegedly wearing her headscarf incorrectly.

While Iranian authorities have claimed she died due to a pre-existing health condition, an autopsy found significant evidence of Ms Amini being beaten around the head, which likely caused her to fall into a coma and later die.

Since then, Iran’s security forces have violently cracked down on those protesting its regime, but surprising unity among the dissidents and the impact of social media has kept the protests afloat.

State-led violence against protestors

According to humanitarian organisation Iran Human Rights, as of November 2 at least 277 people had been killed as a result of government crackdowns on assemblies and protests across the country – including a large number of children.

Sara told further violence is likely on the horizon for those now being trialled for protesting, saying: “To increase the fear among the protestors, they want to kill a lot of those who got arrested. People say they are going to do it as soon as possible to make people scared.”

She added that a friend of hers was arrested for protesting a month ago, and “no one has heard about her since”.

Starting on October 30, a trial began for six protestors, who lawyers fear may all be sentenced to death. One such protestor, Mohammad Ghobadlo, was sentenced to death after just one hearing on Monday, according to a statement from his mother. He had been charged with “corruption of earth” for allegedly running over a member of the security forces with a vehicle.

The judge for these trials, Abolqasem Salavati, has earned himself the nickname “the Judge of Death” for how frequently he orders the death penalty, and for his lack of concern for the rights of those he prosecutes.

Human rights lawyer Saeid Dehghan told the Centre for Human Rights in Iran: “Based on the announced charges, such as ‘waging war’ and ‘corruption of earth,’ some of the accused could be sentenced to death. The detainees are being held without having been officially charged or being able to meet with a lawyer, or contact family.”

According to Iran’s state news agency IRNA, a further 1,000 prisoners are due to be trialled after playing a “central role” in the unrest. The trial of 315 of these has already begun in Tehran – also presided over by Judge Abolqasem Salavati.

The protestors are not backing down

Sara described the fear she felt as a woman whenever she saw the morality police.

She said: “When you’re on the street, and you see a white van, you’re always scared – even when you’re not in Iran. It leaves my whole body shaking”.

Women will be persecuted in Iran for not wearing a hijab correctly even if they are not themselves muslim, she added.

Sara spoke to on condition of anonymity for fear of what the government might do to her family. However, she said protestors were not holding back, despite the violence being inflicted by security forces.

Sara explained the government killing people “always made them stop – but this time, people are more angry than ever. We finally believe that we can change it, and we don’t stop any more. Now we are all united together”.

The protestor added: “It requires a lot of sacrifice. We know that. It will take a long time but this time, there is no way back. This time, it’s unstoppable.”

Her words echo those of Kurdish freedom fighter and co-author of “Girl With A Gun: Love, loss and the fight for freedom in Iran” Diana Nammi, who told the protestors “won’t give up”.

She also said that the unity of the protestors was a significant factor, commenting: “It’s really important that something happens this time – and this time, it’s all the women, and the men are very much supporting them. Both men and women are being very brave and courageous. Everyone is so united.”

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Social media is a key factor

Sara said she first heard about Ms Amini’s death via social media, adding that while initially she was “not surprised”, the international media spotlight placed on the arrest galvanised those who wanted to fight back against the government’s oppression.

She said this time “was so new because it was like, the world finally heard us. It was the first time we had the attention of other countries.”

The protestor said the government was giving arrest warrants even for sharing information on social media, adding: “it’s so important that people who are not from Iran talk about this because if you’re from Iran, talking on social media is so risky.”

Some analysts have suggested that the distrused state-run Iranian media has left the younger generation turning to the internet for their news and information – exposing them to more progressive ideas and inspiring them to mobilise.

Ms Nammi said the protests had in no small part been “driven by the younger generation” due to their ability to access the internet, dulling the Iranian government’s ability to control them.

She said: “They have access to the world via the internet, they know real life, they know their rights, and they don’t accept oppression.”

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