Iranian Rights Advocate Issues Warning Over Severe Sentences Being Handed To Protesters

By RFE/RL's Radio Farda

A prominent Iranian human rights advocate incarcerated in Iran's notorious Evin prison has published a letter expressing concern about the heavy sentences -- including the death penalty -- being handed to protesters who have taken to the streets in anger over the death of a young woman while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly.

Narges Mohammadi sent the letter on November 14 to Javid Rahman, the UN's special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, asking the agency to use all of its powers to stop authorities from issuing death sentences and possibly carrying out of the executions of protesters.

In the letter, Mohammadi also noted that some protesters are "in solitary confinement and under pressure to give forced confessions,” which are then used to justify heavy sentences and executions in order to "create terror and suppress the popular uprising."

Mohammadi's letter was published a day after the Iranian judiciary announced the death sentence for a protester in Tehran, as well as five- to 10-year prison terms for five other protesters.

Rights groups say more than 300 people have been killed during the police crackdown that has followed the protests over the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, and Iranian authorities have vowed to increase pressure as the unrest spreads across the country.

In response, 227 lawmakers from Iran's 290-seat parliament urged the judiciary to approve the death sentence for some protesters. Iran's chief justice, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, subsequently told a meeting of the Supreme Judicial Council that he agreed with the request and that some protesters can be executed under the Qisas principle, or retaliatory law.

Mohseni-Ejei had already asked judges responsible for dealing with the cases of those arrested at the protests to refrain from issuing "weak sentences" to the people he called the "main elements" of the protests.

Human rights groups have decried the push for harsh sentences, noting that political prisoners in Iran are already deprived of many of their rights, including access to their chosen defense attorney.

A group of 40 Iranian lawyers recently published a statement saying the judicial system "has become one of the authoritarian forces with the presence of nonindependent and disobedient officials, and because of this, a corrupt network has ruled the country's destiny."

The protests, which are demanding more freedoms and women's rights, pose the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

Several thousand have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.