National Post

Iran hangs two for insulting religion

- JON Gambrell

ARAB • Iran hanged two men Monday convicted of blasphemy, authoritie­s said, carrying out rare death sentences for the crime as executions surge across the Islamic Republic following months of unrest.

Iran remains one of the world’s top executione­rs, having put to death at least 203 prisoners since the start of this year alone, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. But carrying out executions for blasphemy remains rare, as previous cases saw the sentences reduced by authoritie­s.

The two men executed, Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare, died at Arak Prison in central Iran. They had been arrested in May 2020, accused of being involved in a channel on the Telegram message app called Critique of Superstiti­on and Religion, according to the U.S. Commission on Internatio­nal Religious Freedom. Both men faced months of solitary confinemen­t and could not contact their families, the commission said.

The Mizan news agency of Iran’s judiciary confirmed the executions, describing the two men as having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and promoted atheism. Mizan also accused them of burning a Qur’an, Islam’s holy book.

“The internatio­nal community must show with its reaction that executions for expressing an opinion is intolerabl­e,” said Mahmood Amiry-moghaddam, who leads Iran Human Rights, in a statement.

It wasn’t immediatel­y clear when Iran carried out its last execution for blasphemy. Other countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, also allow for death sentences to be imposed for blasphemy.

The streak of executions, including members of ethnic minority groups in Iran, comes as months-long protests over the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police have cooled. Already, at least four people charged over alleged crimes from the demonstrat­ions have been put to death.

The protests, which reportedly saw over 500 people killed and 19,000 others arrested, marked one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In 2022, Iran executed at least 582 people, up from 333 people in 2021, according to Iran Human Rights.

While some executions are publicized, others are not in Iran.

Many have been for drug-related offences, but there also have been executions of a British-iranian accused of spying and another of a Swedish-iranian convicted of mastermind­ing a 2018 attack on a military parade that killed at least 25.

A German-iranian who lives in California, Jamshid Sharmahd, also faces a looming execution as tensions remain high between Tehran and the West over its accelerati­ng nuclear program.

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