I just ran across a PBS site dedicated to covering ongoing events in Iran.
Iran’s post-election turmoil and the ensuing human rights crisis entered a new phase this week, after authorities announced death sentences for four defendants following the mass trials held for more than a hundred people accused of fomenting unrest and challenging the election results. It has raised the specter of further political executions in Iran. Most ominously, the death sentences were announced on October 10th, the International Day Against the Death Penalty. On the same day, Iran put to death Behnoud Shojaii, a juvenile offender, continuing Iran’s distinction as the only country to execute juvenile offenders since 2008.
The harsh sentences signaled a determination by the Revolutionary Guard commanders and hard-line supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to extend their consolidation of power to the judicial branch. Since the eruption of popular protests challenging the election results, Revolutionary Guards commanders together with Friday prayer leaders and their political allies have been beating the drums for a severe response from the Judiciary, arguing that defendants should be charged with Moharebeh (taking up arms against God) which is punishable by death under Iranian laws, and calling for this ultimate penalty.
The first set of death sentences was issued against this group, which includes three people accused of having communications with a small pro-Monarchist group known as Anjoman Padeshahi Iran and one person accused of making contacts with the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization.
It appears the prosecutor intentionally threw these cases in among the post-election defendants to establish a precedent for bringing the charge of Moharebeh in the mass indictments. By condemning these four defendants to death, the Judiciary has set the stage for justifying further execution sentences against ordinary protesters as well as well known politicians, journalists, and dissidents who are also on trial.
The four defendants sentenced to death are not guilty of any violent actions and their indictments clearly state that the Intelligence Ministry arrested them “before they could engage in any action.” Even under the existing laws, they could not be sentenced to death in fair trials. However, by using them as a front in a public relations ploy to justify death sentences in post-election trials, the government is pursuing two goals. First, the government is aiming to instill fear among reform-oriented Iranians, and raising the cost of participation in further protests, by signaling its power and determination to apply the death penalty at will. The second intent is to lay the groundwork for further political executions by desensitizing the broader population to state-sponsored violence.
For the nuclear negotiations to move forward, Ahmadinejad’s government must make serious concessions that will be hard to justify domestically in the face of constant hardline rhetoric to the contrary. The situation is reminiscent of the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, when the Iranian government could no longer sustain its war effort and was forced to accept UN resolutions calling for a cease-fire, a process Ayatalloh Khomeini compared to “drinking the cup of poison.” Immediately after Iran accepted the ceasefire in 1988, the government engaged in mass executions of at least 4500 political prisoners who were already prosecuted, serving their sentences, and not charged with capital crimes.
There is a lot more at the link.