Two men convicted of blasphemy executed in Iran

Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare died at Arak prison in central Iran. —Amnesty International

Iran’s judiciary has executed two men, Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli-Zare, who were convicted of operating numerous social media accounts focused on atheism and the desecration of religious sanctities, as reported by the country’s Mizan news agency.

Mehrad’s lawyer maintained his innocence and criticised the unjust nature of the sentence. The executions were denounced by a human rights group as a brutal act.

While executions have surged in Iran amid ongoing anti-government unrest, those specifically for blasphemy convictions are relatively uncommon. Mizan stated that Mehrad and Fazeli-Zare were hanged at Arak Prison in central Iran on Monday morning.

According to Iran’s Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), the two men were arrested in 2020 for allegedly managing a Telegram channel titled “Criticism of Superstition and Religion.” HRANA highlighted that they were held in solitary confinement for two months and denied access to legal representation.

In 2021, the Arak Criminal Court found Mehrad and Fazeli-Zare guilty of blasphemy charges and sentenced them to death, in addition to six-year prison terms for their alleged involvement in activities deemed a threat to national security. Their appeals against the verdicts were rejected by the Supreme Court, which upheld the death sentences. Mizan reported that both individuals had confessed to their crimes.

Human rights organizations have repeatedly criticized Iranian courts for failing to uphold fair trial standards and relying on coerced “confessions” obtained through torture as evidence.

The execution of Mehrad and Fazeli-Zare drew strong condemnation from Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Iran Human Rights group based in Norway. He described their executions as not only cruel acts by a medieval regime but also serious violations of freedom of expression. Amiry-Moghaddam called on the international community to respond firmly, asserting that the lack of a robust reaction would send a signal to the Islamic Republic and its ideological allies worldwide.

In a separate incident, a Swedish-Iranian dual national accused of involvement in a deadly attack on a military parade in 2018 was also executed on Saturday. The European Union strongly condemned the execution of Habib Chaab.

Iran ranks second only to China in terms of the number of executions conducted annually. Iran Human Rights has documented over 200 executions since the beginning of the year. The group reported a 75% increase in executions to 582 last year, attributing the rise to authorities’ attempts to instil fear among participants in nationwide protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in custody in September.

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