Middle East

Iran executes two people convicted of blasphemy

By Mostafa Salem, CNN

Iran hanged two people on Monday who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy, according to the judiciary news agency Mizan.

Yusef Mehrdad and Sadrullah Fazeli Zare were arrested in May 2020 and sentenced to death in April 2021 for running online “anti-Islam groups and channels,” Mizan said.

Authorities convicted both after they were found to be members of a Telegram channel titled “Critique of Superstition and Religion,” according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Members of the Telegram channel allegedly shared opinions insulting Islam. One member allegedly said that they set religious books on fire, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom claimed. Iran’s state-run AlAlam said Mehrdad was filmed burning the Quran.

Executions have spiked in Iran since protests against the death of Mahsa Amini in September.

Zare and Mehrdad were denied family visits and phone calls for eight months after their arrest. Mehrdad reportedly went on hunger strike in February 2022 to protest the authorities’ refusal to allow him to make phone calls, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said.

United Nations experts have previously called on Iran to stop the persecution of religious minorities, under what they described as a policy of targeting dissenting beliefs and religious practices, including Christian converts and atheists.

“Such state-sanctioned intolerance furthers extremism and violence. We call on the Iranian authorities to de-criminalize blasphemy and take meaningful steps to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief,” the experts said in a statement published in August.

The executions come days after the execution of a dual Swedish-Iranian national, Habib Chaab, who was convicted for leading a national Arab separatist group accused of attacks in Iran.

A joint report issued by the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and the France-based Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) revealed at least 582 executions were carried out last year – a 75% increase from the previous year.

It was the highest number of executions in the Islamic republic since 2015, according to the report released last month.

The report found there was a “surge” of executions in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September. Amini’s death sparked a months-long national uprising, which was eventually quashed by a brutal police crackdown.

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