July 17, 2020

Massive Uproar Over Execution Sentences

Week of July 13th, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council


    Massive Uproar Over Execution Sentences

    Iranians and people from around the world started a massive online movement to prevent the execution of three youths. As covered in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered, on February 22nd, a court handed out execution sentences to 25-year-old Amir Hossein Moradi, 27-year-old Saeed Tamjidi, and 25-year-old Mohammad Rajabi, who were arrested in connection with last November’s protests.

    On July 14th, the Judiciary’s spokesperson Gholam-Hossein Esmaili confirmed the Supreme Court had upheld the sentences. However, Esmaili said the sentences could still be “changed” through various means, including potentially implementing “Article 477 of the Code of Criminal Trials.”

    After Esmail’s press conference, many Iranians started sharing a hashtag on Twitter and Instagram saying “Do not execute” (اعدام_نکنید#). The hashtag quickly went viral and by July 16th was shared over 8 million times on Twitter. Many Iranian athletes, artists, civil society activists, and political figures joined the call to stop the executions.

    The lawyers of the three young men are now optimistic they will be given a retrial. On July 15th, Babak Paknia, the lawyer for Amir Hossein Moradi, said the lawyers were just given access to the legal case against the three defendants.

    The lawyers have now requested implementation of “Article 477.” According to Hossein Taj, the lawyer for Mohammad Rajabi, Article 477 requests the judiciary chief to order a retrial of a criminal case if he finds that the legal proceedings in the case were contrary to Islamic law.

    Paknia says that after reviewing the case, there are many issues that would void the execution sentences. Paknia says the defendants were not given proper access to lawyers and, despite the charges against them, “did not attack anyone with guns or burn banks.”

    Paknia says he is “certain” the lawyers can nullify the execution sentences. Paknia said that during their trial, the defendants did not have access to lawyers. He added that according to Iranian law, defendants sentenced to death or life in prison must have a lawyer or be provided with one if they cannot afford it from the “beginning of the investigatory phase.”

    Paknia says that he was the only lawyer in the case initially, but that even he “was not allowed to intervene.” He says that “this fact alone is enough of a violation to void the [execution] sentences.”

    Paknia also dismissed many of the charges against the defendants. He said there was “no attack with weapons,” but that a “robbery occurred which must be examined from different angles.” He also said there was no evidence of the defendants burning buildings other than “their confessions and videos, and the videos are debatable.”

    Paknia said he is not saying that the defendants “did nothing,” but that there must be a balance between the punishment and the crime. Paknia says that he believes it very likely the execution sentences will be stayed, and the case will go to a retrial. He added that “there is no reason to be concerned.”

    After the hashtag went viral, the official Fars News outlet ran a story saying that Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi had approved a retrial. However, later the Mizan News Agency, affiliated with the judiciary itself, denied this and said the lawyers still had not submitted a request for implementing “Article 477” and getting a retrial.

    The reformist Shargh newspaper said about the decision resting in the hands of Raisi: “All eyes are on the head of the judiciary, who by accepting a retrial, would allow for a review of the case against the three youths sentenced to execution. Will the judicial chief accept this request from millions of his compatriots in the media and on social networks?”

    Shargh added: “Given the record of Raisi as judiciary chief this past year, it does not seem unlikely.”

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    JCPOA’s 5th Anniversary Spurs Talk of Iran’s Relations with the U.S. and China

    On the fifth anniversary of the JCPOA’s negotiation, a prominent Tehran University professor elicited debate over future negotiations with the United States. Sadegh Zibakalam, who is associated with reformists, wrote a newspaper article where he said conservatives in Iran seek a “new JCPOA.”

    Zibakalam said that if conservatives win the 2021 presidential election, they will seek a “new nuclear agreement” with the United States. He stated: “The basic question is why would ‘the worried’ (the conservative JCPOA opponents in Iran) allow the moderates and Rouhani to pick the fruits of the JCPOA? Can’t they do it themselves?”

    Reformist analyst Dariush Ghanbari wrote a piece partially agreeing with Zibakalam. He said that one reason behind the opposition of many conservatives to the JCPOA was that the deal occurred under an administration that is ideologically not aligned with them.

    Ghanbari said that conservatives are not opposed to negotiations. He highlighted how bilateral U.S.-Iran negotiations began at the end of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s term. 

    However, Ghanbari said that conservatives have radicalized their base too much to negotiate with the United States. He said this level of radicalization will be an obstacle to negotiations for a conservative presidential administration.

    On the other hand, Hossein Kanani Moghadam, a conservative activist, said Zibakalam’s argument was an “insult to conservatives.” Moghadam criticized the JCPOA as a “win-loss” deal that favored the United States. He said that conservatives will not agree to “future JCPOAs.”

    However, Moghadam also said that Iran should not leave the JCPOA. He opined that the U.S. wants Iran to abandon the JCPOA so that UN sanctions can be reimposed and Iran falls under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which authorizes sanctions and military force.

    Moghadam added: “Those who think that by leaving the JCPOA the situation will improve are playing into the hands of America.”

    On a different front, an analysis in the reformist Fararu outlet argued Iran was decisively pivoting toward non-Western powers like China. Fararu stated that if negotiations for a 25-year Iran-China agreement are successful, it will mark Iran “strategically pivoting to the East.” (Read more about the Iran-China negotiations in a previous issue of Iran Unfiltered).

    Fararu stated: “The funny thing is that the administration that is negotiating this agreement (with China) came to power to resolve issues with the West. But now, five years after signing the JCPOA, which has an uncertain future, the Rouhani administration has lost hope in the West and is trying to expand relations with China.”

    Fararu quotes Saeed Attar, a political science professor at Yazd University, on Iran’s “look to the East”: “With the JCPOA and the developments that occurred after it, the system in Iran lost hope in what it dubbed as aligning with the international community. From this point (after the JCPOA), the ruling elites reached the conclusion that the era of looking to the West was over.”

    Attar added that Iran’s calculation to “look to the East” will not change if a Democratic administration comes to power in the United States. He stated: “For the ruling elites, Biden as president won’t make that much of a difference. This is because the era of feebly and ineffectually connecting to the international community is over.”

    Attar went on: “Iran for the last 100 years after the Constitutional Revolution was West-centered. Now it is saying bye to this contemporary history.”

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    COVID-19 Lockdowns Return to Parts of Iran

    The coronavirus pandemic continues to worsen in Iran. For the past few weeks, the death rate and number of hospitalizations has been rising in many parts of the country. On July 15th, 199 people died of the disease across Iran and there were 2,388 new infections. Iran has had a total of 264,561 confirmed infections so far.

    New restrictions have been placed on gathering of more than 10 people in Tehran. This includes at cinemas, conferences, gyms, salons and other venues. Masks have already become mandatory in Iran.

    These new restrictions are for one week but will likely be extended according to officials. Minoo Mohraz, a leading public health expert , has said that the virus is reaching a new “peak.” She has warned about the rate of hospitalizations.

    All private and public hospitals in Tehran have been required to set 30 percent of their “bed capacity” for COVID-19 patients. Officials are warning that if the number of cases continues to increase, hospitals may be overwhelmed.

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