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Iranian leaders have vowed tougher action against ‘rioters’

Following a crackdown on anti-government demonstrations that began after a young woman died in police custody, there are rumours that over 15,000 people now face execution for protesting.

For two months, mass protests have swept Iran, defying a deadly crackdown by security forces.

Deemed the most serious challenge to the country’s authorities in decades, the anti-government demonstrations began in response to the death of Zhina ‘Mahsa’ Amini.

On September 13th, the 22-year-old was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict rules requiring women to cover their hair with a hijab or headscarf.

Though it’s said she suffered a heart attack, witness reports that officers beat her head with a baton at the moment of her arrest suggest that Mahsa died in police custody and never made it to the detention centre where she was to undergo a ‘briefing class.’

Acting as the catalyst for an uprising against the absence of Iranian women’s rights, the weeks since have seen protests swell, with demands ranging from increased freedoms to a full overthrow of the state.

Spreading across dozens of cities and towns, protests also comprise of men and teenage boys in large numbers, as well as people from all sections of society and age groups.

Videos have shown women defiantly setting their headscarves on fire and cutting their hair in public to chants of ‘woman, life, freedom’ and ‘death to the dictator’ – a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Seeking to quell this disobedience and isolate protestors from the outside world, authorities have repeatedly shut down mobile internet connections and disrupted the services of Instagram and WhatsApp, two of Iran’s most popular social media platforms.

They have also frequently tried to suppress the large-scale demonstrations with force, so far resulting in 326 deaths and counting – 43 of them children and at least 51 journalists – according to recent estimates from UN human rights experts.

This bloodshed and violence has largely been denied by police, despite footage of them firing into groups of protestors with live ammunition and attacking them with batons.

Regardless, Iranian leaders have now vowed tougher action against protestors they have described as ‘rioters,’ accusing enemies including the United States of fomenting the civil unrest.

This comes after Iranian lawmakers asked the country’s judiciary to ‘show no leniency’ to those taking to the streets and could see anyone involved facing the death penalty if arrested, to ‘serve as a good lesson in the shortest possible time.’

Currently, there are rumours that 15,000 people may be executed. Although this is yet to be confirmed, there were worrying reports last week that Iran could be moving in that direction.

According to Newsweek, the country’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour (227 out of the 290 total members) of the punishment on November 7th.

And over the weekend, The Revolutionary Court in Tehran found that one unnamed defendant – who had set fire to a government facility and ‘disturbed public order’ – was guilty of moharebeh (enmity against God) and efsad-fil-arz (corruption on earth).

He was sentenced to death as another court jailed five people for between five to 10 years on national security charges.

While it remains to be seen whether this will transpire, Iran Human Rights has warned of the possibility of hasty executions without pre-warning and has urged the international community to prevent these deaths by taking immediate action.

In a statement, the organisation’s director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said: ‘People have the inalienable right to protest. Killing or issuing death sentences against protesters is an international crime. Those calling for such actions are complicit in this crime and must be held accountable.’

‘We reiterate our call to immediately release all protesters who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty.’

‘The international community must send a strong warning to the Iranian authorities that implementation of the death sentence for protesters is not acceptable and will have heavy consequences.’