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Despite UN warnings, Iran’s execution of Kurds and political dissidents continues unchecked

Despite UN warnings, Iran’s execution of Kurds and political dissidents continues unchecked

Human rights activists gather in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 27, 2024, to condemn executions of political dissidents in Iran. Ali Khaligh/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images


By Haidar Khezri, University of Central Florida

Since the 2022 death of Jîna Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman held in police custody for wearing her hijab inappropriately, Iranian demonstrators have protested against the repressive regime and the surge of executions of ethnic and religious political dissidents.

In the first 11 months of 2023, Iran had executed 746 people, prompting United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to observe that Iran was carrying them out “at an alarming rate.”

So far in 2024, Iran has executed at least eight Kurdish political prisoners, including four on Jan. 29, 2024, who were convicted on dubious charges such as waging war against God and corruption on Earth.

As a Kurdish-born scholar and a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Central Florida, I have previously written about the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement and the Kurdish female fighters who focus on the protection of women’s rights and protests by the Iranian people against their government.

Those demonstrations includes protests against Iran’s use of the death penalty that, according to a 2022 the U.S. Department of State report, “disproportionately affected religious and ethnic minorities.”

With hardliners maintaining grip on parliament after the election held on March 1, 2024, the plight of ethnic and religious minorities remains an ongoing tragedy with no end in sight. Because of a nationwide boycott of the election, voter turnout was estimated at less than 41 percent, the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

As human rights organization Amnesty International warned in 2023, the Iranian authorities had embarked on an “execution spree.”

Separate and unequal

In late November 2023, human rights groups reported intense crackdowns on protesters in two Kurdish cities. In one of them, Mahabad, authorities have declared martial law. In another, Javanrud, people have been found massacred and the government accused of ethnic cleansing, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran and Kurdistan Human Rights Network.

Several cars are unable to move through thousands of demonstrators.
Thousands of demonstrators stop traffic in Iran on Sept. 19, 2022, to protest the death of Jîna Mahsa Amini while in police custody. Getty Images


This Kurdish region of Iran has been the epicenter for nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022 since Amini’s death.

Following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini established the Revolutionary Courts which have supreme power over the general courts and were designed to protect the revolution from any and all perceived enemies of the state.

A group of men with rifles kneel in front of several men who are wearing blindfolds.
In this 1979 image, an Iranian government firing squad executes 11 Kurdish men. Jahangir Razmi/ Bettmann Archive/Getty Images


Most death sentences of the regime’s opponents have been carried out by these courts. The executions are often based on vague charges and forced confessions, many of which are broadcast on state-owned national television. A study by the International Federation for Human Rights revealed that between 2009 and 2019, Iranian media broadcast 355 such forced confessions.

Ethnic and religious persecutions

Unfortunately, the discrimination against the Kurds and other minorities in Iran remains overlooked, and it is even enshrined in the constitution.

In Iran, where people of non-Persian ethnicities constitute more than half of the population and speak nearly 100 different languages and dialects, Article 15 of the Iranian Constitution recognizes only Persian/Farsi as “the official language” and script of Iran.

As a result, ethnic minorities like the Kurds are prohibited from learning or teaching their own languages.

The law is strictly enforced. In 2020, for instance, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Courts sentenced Zara Mohammadi to 10 years in prison for teaching Kurdish, her native tongue.

Ten years earlier, Kurdish primary school teacher Farzad Kamangar was executed for advocating for greater cultural and political self-determination for the Kurds.

Criminalizing religious minorities is also permitted in the constitution of the Islamic republic.

Iran’s Constitution names the Twelver Ja’fari School of Shi’a Islam as the state religion. This excludes the Sunni Kurds, Baha’is and other religious minorities from the minimal protections granted by Iran’s Constitution. Not surprisingly, the Baha’is and Sunnis remain the most persecuted religious minorities in Iran.

Ending ‘hell on earth’

Jîna Mahsa Amini’s death unleashed a wave of nationwide protests in Iran that called for dismantling the state’s gender apartheid as well as systemic ethnic, racial and religious discrimination, particularly in Sunni- and Kurdish-dominated cities.

Human rights organizations have accused Iran of exploiting the current international focus on Gaza to exact revenge on dissidents.

“Since the start of the war, there has been little international focus on the human rights situation in Iran, and there has been no substantial response to the significant increase in executions,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the director of Iran Human Rights, a nonprofit human rights organization.

Amiry-Moghaddam explained that his organization has compiled data that shows the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown has disproportionately targeted ethnic and religious minorities.

In my view, the current “killing spree” defies the demands of the Iranian people and the Kurds to end the executions and to expel Iran from the U.N. under Article 6, Chapter II of the U.N. charter for the regime’s persistent violation of human rights principles since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

As former U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld once said, the U.N. “was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.”

For the long-suffering, stateless Kurdish nation, the U.N. has so far failed to rescue them from their hell on earth.The Conversation

Haidar Khezri, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages, University of Central Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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