What We All Need to Know About the Executions in Iran

“This is androcide.”

Just three days ago, Iranian news agencies confirmed the execution of another man. As far as reliable sources are able to confirm, he appears to be the 33rd person executed by the state in 2023.

As the regime continues to crack down on protestors who have taken to the streets after the death of Mahsa Amini, I spoke to Sherry Hakimi, policy advisor and executive director of genEquality about what’s really happening—and what, if anything, we can do.

Shannon Melero: What exactly does the international community need to know about the executions of protestors happening in Iran? 

Sherry Hakimi: The Islamic Republic has long used execution as a violent tactic for suppressing dissent. Even before the recent revolutionary movement, executions had been rising in Iran: In 2022, the number reportedly surpassed 400 before the September protests began; in 2021, there was a 20% increase in executions over 2020, mostly on drug-related offenses.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, these executions break international human rights law by violating due process and fair trial guarantees. The violations include the use of vaguely worded criminal provisions, denial of…the right to present a defense, forced confessions obtained through torture and ill-treatment, failure to respect the presumption of innocence, and denial of the right to appeal.

What are these people being charged with that is so severe their government believes it warrants death?

To be clear, these are charges made in sham judicial processes. Currently, the common charges are murder of [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officers], “moharebeh” (“waging war against God”), and “mofsed-e-felarz” (“corruption on earth”).

The people who have been executed to date have been found guilty of murder on the basis of what can only be called coerced confessions. As for “moharebeh” and “mofsed-e-felarz,” these are catch-all charges that the Islamic Republic often levies on anyone who goes against them.

It’s important to recognize that from whatever angle you look at itjudicial, political, social, moralthese executions are illegitimate and must be stopped.

Is there a reason that the executions we’re aware of have been men? I think in general we understand that this revolution began with and about women, and yet that’s not who we are seeing receive these harsh punishments.

First, I have to disagree with the implication that women aren’t receiving harsh punishments. There are reportedly more than 19,000 people currently held in Iran’s jails, and there have been numerous reports of Iranian women being brutally beaten, tortured, raped, disfigured, and murdered by regime forces. Going through a sham judicial process before being brutalized or murdered does not lessen the harshness of either.

The atrocities experienced by womennamely, brutal rape and sexual assaultare violent, gruesome atrocities that will haunt and adversely affect those women for the rest of their days, leaving them psychologically, emotionally, and often physically scarred. I am in no way diminishing the severity of execution, but rather, elevating the severity of rape and sexual assault to the level at which it should be considered. Both execution and rape are unacceptable and inhumane tools of war utilized by primitive brutes. These acts have no place in today’s world.

A few points come to mind as to why we’re seeing more men face execution. First, there’s very little (if any) reason to believe a single one of the charges levied against any detained protester, but the four men who have been executed to date were all charged with murder. It’s possible that the Islamic Republic, in keeping with its patriarchal ways, thinks it is somewhat more plausible to pin false murder charges against male protesters.

Second, although Iran is one of the world’s biggest perpetrators of the death penalty (second only to China) [with] the distinction of having executed the most women to date, women generally make up a small percentage of the people who are executed each year everywhere. (According to the Death Penalty Information Center, women make up 1.2% of the people who have been executed since 1976 in the U.S.) It’s possible that we’re seeing a similar dynamic play out in Iran. All protesters and detainees face brutal and indiscriminate beating and torture. Women disproportionately experience brutal assault and rape, and men disproportionately are handed execution sentences.

Rally held in Beyazit in support of Iranian protests on J Istanbul, Türkiye. (Photo by Omer Kuscu/ dia images via Getty Images)

Third, this is indeed a female-led revolution, but the protesters are not solely women. From the beginning, we have lauded the fact that Iranian men and boys have been out there, shoulder to shoulder, protesting alongside Iranian women and girls.

Lastly, it’s likely not an accident that the four men executed to date and the dozens of others who face imminent execution include a karate champion, a bodybuilder, a doctor, a popular rapper, etc. In instances of war and conflict, both international and domestic, there is a history of aggressors targeting strong, skilled men and boys. This is androcide: when one side of a conflict sees its opposing men, fighting or otherwise, as rivals and a threat to their superiority and thus sets out to kill the rivals and neutralize the perceived threat. Frankly, only a country led by weak and insecure brutes treats its own people as the enemy and wantonly subjects them to violence and death.

Is there anything people outside of Iran can do to help? Is there something specific the American government should be doing? 

This revolutionary movement is ongoing, and the plea of Iranian protesters is for everyone outside of Iran to be their voice. To that end, one of the most helpful things that people can do is to keep posting about Iran across their social media channels. This is the rare case in which posting about an issue on social media is not “slacktivism,” but rather, proper activism. You can also join protests, speak with friends about what’s going on in Iran, and generally use every opportunity to spread awareness of the Iranian people’s fight for women, life, and freedom.

Revolutions are unpredictable, but the Islamic Republic regime is unlikely to fall quickly. To that end, both the U.S. and the international community need to have short-term and long-term plans. Short-term actions include announcing targeted sanctions on Islamic Republic leaders, appropriately reducing the Islamic Republic’s legitimacy in multilateral institutions like the UN, and increasing civic technology access; long-term actions include mobilizing needed humanitarian aid, emergency medical services, and greater international accountability mechanisms.

One thing that we really haven’t been talking aboutbut we shouldis that as Iranian protesters are being brutalized, there are lives, limbs, eyes, and more being needlessly lost due to a lack of medical care. I believe that international leaders (by “international leaders,” I mean every country in the world, as well as the United Nations, World Health Organization, Red Crescent, Doctors Without Borders, and the like) need to think harder and more innovatively about what aid and support they are providing to Iranian protesters. Getting emergency medical services into Iran will be a challenging task, but it is still an effort that should be made, preferably as noisily as possible. I would really like to see more people calling on the various humanitarian/health organizations to step up efforts to help Iranians who are fighting for freedom.