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The First Known Death Sentence for Protesting in Iran

Writing by Georgia May. Artwork from Unsplash.

Ongoing protest and civil unrest in Iran has culminated in a protester being sentenced to death and at least 20 protesters facing charges punishable by death on Sunday the 13th of November. The accumulative protests that led to this have been breaking out both inside and out of Iran, gaining momentum and pressure reaching meteoric levels now going into the ninth continuous week of protest.

Notable examples of protest include the 23rd of October when an anonymous collective of Iranian artists ascended to the top of the Guggenheim art gallery in New York. From there, they let loose 12 long red banners to tumble down the iconic white atrium that forms the body of the museum, with a woman’s face printed on red passing visitors on every level. Amidst soup throwing and supergluing, this latest performance art protest is not to protest governments’ inadequacy in tackling climate change, but instead the murder of the Iranian 22-year-old woman, Jîna "Mahsa" Amini.

Upon closer inspection of the red banners floating down the Guggenheim, you will see Amini’s face printed sequentially down them. In this portrayal the key detail is that she is not wearing a hijab, which is mandatory law for women in Iran. This is the charge for which Amini was arrested by the Guidance Patrol, for wearing an “improper” hijab on the 14th of September. Amini subsequently died in custody and the police have been accused of beating her to death following the confirmation of her death on the 16th of September. It is this act of injustice and this woman who has sparked widespread protests and civil unrest on the basis of human rights and misogyny.

The banners also bear the words, “Women, Life, Freedom” to echo the chants of protests. This phrase is particularly important in its original Kurdish, “Jin, jiyan, azadî”, the language and culture to which Amini belonged. “Jin, jiyan, azadî” is even more poignant considering Amini’s Kurdish name, Jîna, which means ‘life’. Yet, her true name has been unnamed in many articles and unaddressed despite its important context towards the nuanced issue of anti-Kurdish rhetoric within the regime in Iran, particularly as it is something many have speculated caused the extent of the violence Amini suffered. The absence of Amini’s Kurdish identity in the media speaks to the way totalitarianism drowns out its victims even in death.

The protests in Iran itself have consisted of an estimated 14,000 people having been arrested and detained during the eight weeks of protest under the charges of “waging war against God'' and “corruption on earth” according to the United Nations. These protesters have posed the largest internal movement against the regime since 1979 due to their human rights focused agenda and historic longevity. The power of these protests has now led to the Revolutionary Court issuing the first known death sentence for involvement in anti-regime protests on Sunday the 13th of November in efforts to quell such collective uprising against the regime.

These measures follow the implementational regional shutdowns of internet access as well as violence. So far, according to the non-partisan Oslo based organisation, Iran Human Rights, at least 326 people have already been killed in the government’s often violent response to such protests, 43 of whom were children.

Prior to the death sentences being officialised by the Revolutionary Court as announced on Sunday, the United Nations’ Human Rights Council was going to hold an urgent session amidst the unfolding events in Iran due to diplomatic requests by Germany and Iceland. They issued a statement in which they proclaimed that they “urge Iranian authorities to stop using the death penalty as a tool to squash protests and reiterate our call to immediately release all protesters [...]” The UN has yet to release a subsequent statement to address the quick and dire development of events or take action, for which they have been criticised.


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