The first known death sentence handed down to a defendant linked to the unrest sweeping Iran has fueled fears of an even tougher crackdown as the government struggles to stamp out demonstrations challenging its rule.
Mizan, a news agency run by the Iranian judiciary, reported that the defendant, who had not been identified, had been found guilty of setting fire to a government office and causing “destruction and corruption on earth”.
The death sentence, handed down on Sunday and subject to appeal, according to Mizan, stemmed from protests that have rocked the country since September over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the country’s vice squad for allegedly failure to adhere to the country’s strict dress code.
On Tuesday, the Tasnim Bureau reported that a second defendant had been sentenced to death for “creating terror and terror in the street, stabbing and injuring a person and setting fire to a civilian’s motorcycle”.
At least 10 protesters have been charged with crimes punishable by death, said Jeremy Laurence, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who called on the Iranian government to release the “thousands” of people arrested in connection with the protests.
Mansoureh Mills, an Iran researcher for the human rights group Amnesty International, said the verdict and arrests showed the government was trying to end the unrest once and for all.
“Iranian authorities are now desperately trying to end the popular uprising by taking increasingly drastic measures, such as using the death penalty as a form of political repression to terrify the people of Iran and deter further protests .” Mills said.
The US-based activist Human Rights Activists News Agency has said so 15,800 protesters have been detained and 344 killed since the protests began. Independent reporting is suppressed in Iran and it is impossible to confirm these figures.
Protests against Amini’s death, and those of others swept up in demonstrations, represent one of the government’s biggest challenges since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, experts say.
Many protesters chanted slogans against the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and President Ebrahim Raisi, including “Death to the dictator!” and one that has become the rallying cry of the protests: “Woman, life, liberty!”
Historians who study Iran, human rights activists, political analysts, US officials and Iranian pundits all say the protests represent a potentially revolutionary moment and that Iranians are increasingly willing to risk their lives for the cause.
While the protests in Iran began in response to the death of Mahsa Amini in captivity, they quickly expanded into decades of anger and resentment against the political establishment of the Islamic Republic for corruption, oppression, poverty and grave violations of human rights and crimes under international law committed by the Iranian authorities,” said Amnesty’s Mills.
The Tehran prosecutor has also announced that some 1,000 indictments have been issued in connection with the protests in Tehran province, according to the United Nations.
On Monday, the European Union announced new sanctions against 29 individuals in Iran and three entities for its continued crackdown on protesters. The United Kingdom also announced two dozen sanctions against Iranian officials on Monday.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that the United States is “deeply concerned by reports from Iran of mass arrests, mock trials and now a death sentence for protesters making legitimate demands against a government that is systematically denying its people basic dignity and freedom. ”
“The government’s human rights abuses must not go unchallenged,” Sullivan said in a statement. “The hundreds of demonstrators who have already been killed at the hands of Iranian state authorities deserve justice.”
Sullivan said the US supported European Union and UK sanctions and that the US and its allies would “continue to push for accountability through sanctions and other means for those responsible for these abuses”.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement Monday that the bloc “strongly condemns the unacceptable violent crackdown on demonstrators”.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com