It was recently reported that an Iranian regime’s court had rejected appeals for three brothers who were subjected to a laundry list of accusations as a result of their participation in protests in the cities of Kazerun and Shiraz during August 2018. Major protests erupted across Iran in the last days of 2017 and the first few weeks of 2018. The harsh punishment for the three brothers is similarly part of a much broader phenomenon, as regime authorities are stepping up their repressive activities in an effort to forestall further public protests.
The youngest brother, 27-year-old Navid Afkari Sangari, has received two death sentences for spurious and vaguely-defined charges. The Iranian judiciary’s long history of arbitrary implementation of such sentences means that he could be executed at any time now that his appeal has been rejected. Similarly, his brothers Vahid and Habib could be ordered at any moment to begin their prison sentences of 54 and 27 years, respectively, or to receive corporal punishment in the form of 74 lashes each.
In the meantime, the men’s mother is holding out hope for an alternative outcome to their case, though she recognizes that the only realistic path to that alternative is through concerted pressure both from the Iranian people and from the international community. “I’m asking for help from people across the globe, everyone in Iran, anyone [who] can hear my voice so that my sons can be proven innocent in a fair court,” said Bahie Namju, highlighting the allegations that her sons were tortured in detention and coerced into providing false confessions and implicating one another.
These sorts of tactics are par for the course in Iran under the mullahs’ regime, and Navid Sangari himself has described the experience of vicious beatings and suffocation to within an inch of his life, spanning a 50-day period of detention. Navid was also isolated and deprived of visitation rights – a strategy that mullahs often use to put pressure not just on the prisoners themselves but also on their families. This practice is especially recognizable in instances where the regime wishes to make an example of detainees as part of an effort to discourage repetition or defense of their political activities.
The regime is evidently growing more and more committed to presenting such examples to the public, as the unrest which started in December 2017 doesn’t appear to be anywhere near to evaporating. That nationwide protest set the stage for a very similar but even more geographically and socially diverse movement in November 2019. In that case, participation was recorded in approximately 200 different cities and towns, representing a growth of about 25 percent over the participation figures for the January 2018 uprising.
The November uprising led to some of the worst political repression Iran has seen since the 1980s. Over 1,500 peaceful demonstrators were killed in a matter of only days, while thousands of others were arrested. And at least a dozen of those detainees have since been sentenced to death. Their names take their place alongside that of Navid Sangari and any of the dozens of other individuals who have been handed capital sentences in connection with the January 2018 uprising, the ensuing year of localized demonstrations, or for any socio-political acts that came under increased scrutiny from the regime as a result of this unrest.
There appears to be no limit to the ways in which the regime’s authorities can twist the narrative surrounding these activities in order to justify the death penalty. In Sangari’s case, one capital sentence stemmed from allegations that the brothers were involved in the death of a member of the Basij militia. No physical evidence has been presented to substantiate these allegations, but the death sentence appears to have been a foregone conclusion, and the judiciary certainly could have reached that conclusion even via a much less serious and detailed narrative.
Navid and Vahid Sangari were each charged with “spreading corruption on earth” and ultimately sentence to “waging war on God.” Both charges routinely lead to death sentences despite the fact that they obviously do not correspond to any specific set of criminal behaviors. In many cases, they are simply used to establish a supposed link between accused individuals and the organized Iranian Resistance movement, as in 1988 when the 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK / PMOI), were summarily 1988 massacre after being deemed enemies of God.
The memory of that massacre naturally raises concerns that cases like that of Navid Sangari could be a precursor to much more wide-ranging, violent crackdowns on dissent. The likelihood of this outcome depends in large part on the international reaction. In one recent example, coordinated backlash in traditional and social media prompted the regime’s judiciary to announce the possibility of reviewing the capital sentences handed down on three participants in the November 2019 uprising. It was a testament to the possibility of influencing the regime’s behavior, though the announcement was hardly transformative and only underscored the need for ongoing pressure over this and other cases.
Yet, the international community has remained so far silent about the increase in Iran’s domestic repression over the past few years. Even after 1,500 protesters were killed last November.
In this regard, it is necessary to hold the Iranian regime to account for its crime against humanity. Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the Iranian opposition president in this regard has urged the United Nations Security Council, the Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner, and the Human Rights Council as well as the European Union to take immediate action to secure the release of the Afkari brothers and all prisoners of conscience in Iran. Maintaining silence about torture and crime against humanity would amount to violating the values that humankind has sacrificed tens of millions of lives to achieve, she added.