Iran protests: Tehran court sentences first person to death over unrest

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File photo showing people gathered around a fire during an anti-government protest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, in Tehran, Iran (21 September 2022)Image source, WANA VIA REUTERS
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Iran's leaders have portrayed the anti-government protests as "riots" instigated by foreign enemies

A court in Iran has issued the first death sentence to a person arrested for taking part in the protests that have engulfed the country, state media say.

A Revolutionary Court in Tehran found the defendant, who was not named, had set fire to a government facility and was guilty of "enmity against God".

Another court jailed five people for between five and 10 years on national security and public order charges.

A human rights group warned authorities might be planning "hasty executions".

At least 20 people are currently facing charges punishable by death, Norway-based Iran Human Rights said, citing official reports.

Its director, Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, called on the international community to take urgent action and "strongly warn the Islamic Republic of the consequences of executing protesters".

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Watch: The protests currently sweeping the country have their roots in changes made after the 1979 revolution

Protests against Iran's clerical establishment erupted two months ago after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by morality police for allegedly breaking the strict hijab rules.

They are reported to have spread to 140 cities and towns and evolved into the most significant challenge to the Islamic Republic in over a decade.

At least 326 protesters, including 43 children and 25 women, have been killed in a violent crackdown by security forces, according to Iran Human Rights.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), which is also based outside the country, has put the death toll at 341 and said another 15,800 protesters have been detained. It has also reported the deaths of 39 security personnel.

Iran's leaders have portrayed the protests as "riots" instigated by the country's foreign enemies.

Last week, judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei declared that "key perpetrators" should be identified as soon as possible and handed sentences that would have a deterrent effect on others.

He warned that "rioters" could be charged with "moharebeh" (enmity against God), "efsad fil-arz" (corruption on Earth) and "baghy" (armed rebellion) - all of which can carry the death penalty in Iran's Sharia-based legal system.

Those possessing and using a weapon or firearm, disrupting national security, or killing someone could receive "qisas" (retaliation in kind), he said, apparently responding to a call for retributive justice from 272 of the 290 members of Iran's parliament.

More than 2,000 people have already been charged with participating in the "recent riots", according to judiciary figures.

Local media cited judiciary officials as saying on Sunday that 164 had been charged in the southern province of Hormozgan, another 276 in the central province of Markazi, and 316 in neighbouring Isfahan province.

In an interview with France Inter radio broadcast on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the crackdown by Iranian authorities was "unprecedented" and that he was in favour of "a strong diplomatic reaction and sanctions" on those responsible for it.

He also repeatedly used the word "revolution" to describe the unrest.

"It is women who launched this revolution," he said, adding: "The grandchildren of the [1979 Islamic] revolution are making a revolution."

Iran's foreign ministry called the comments "regrettable and shameful".

Later, the European Union imposed sanctions on 29 Iranians and three entities that it said were "responsible for the suppression of the Iranian protesters".

Among those targeted were Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, the morality police squad that arrested Mahsa Amini, as well as provincial heads of the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC).

The UK announced its own round of fresh sanctions targeting Communications Minister Issa Zarepour, cyber police chief Vahid Mohammad Naser Majid and a number of LEF and IRGC officials.

"Together with our partners, we have sent a clear message to the Iranian regime - the violent crackdown on protests must stop and freedom of expression must be respected," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

In a separate development, officials in Iraq's Kurdistan Region said two people were killed on Monday after Iran launched missiles and armed drones at the bases of exiled Iranian Kurdish opposition groups there.

The commander of the IRGC's ground forces told Fars news agency that it was targeting "separatist groups" who had fomented some of the "riots" in Kurdish-populated cities in north-western Iran.