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The Islamic Republic of Iran has long been among the best executioners in the world. But with the recent death sentences handed down to protesters, critics say the regime has taken the death penalty to a new level.
Last weekend, Iran executed two more protesters accused of killing security personnel, sparking an international outcry. Critics said the executions were the result of hasty mock trials.
The regime executed 314 people in 2021, 20% more than the previous year, human rights group Amnesty International said in a May 2022 report. Many of them were related to drug-related crimes.
This year, a number of protesters have become entangled in Iran’s justice system, many of whom activists say face particularly unjust trials.
Human rights activists have warned that there is a real risk that many of them could become another number in the growing list of those executed by the Islamic Republic. At least 43 people are currently being executed in Iran, according to a CNN count, but activist group 1500Tasvir says the number could rise to 100.
“Defendants are systematically denied access to lawyers of their choice during the trial, tortured and forced to confess, then rushed to the gallows,” Tara Sepehri Far, an Iranian researcher with Human Rights Watch, told CNN.
United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk on Tuesday accused Iran of “weaponizing” criminal proceedings, saying it amounts to “state-sanctioned murder”.
With this round of protests, critics say, authorities are using charges involving the death penalty more freely than before, extending the application of such laws to protesters.
Dozens of government agents, from security officials to officers of the paramilitary basij, have been killed in the protests, according to Iranian state media. Activist groups HRANA and Iran Human Rights say 481 protesters have been killed.
Security personnel have also been killed in previous protests, Sepehri Far said, “but it is crucial to point out that in this (time) round, Iranian authorities are using the death penalty far beyond (the) deliberate killing of security officers.”
The regime appears to have taken advantage of the executions by using them as a deterrent to people eager to express their views and flood the streets, as evidenced by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini in the custody of the national vice squad.
“The trials and executions are yet another part of the repression machine that serves to demonstrate power and control and spread fear and publicize the government’s narrative on protesters,” explained Sepehri Far.
Iran has used Islamic Sharia law to prosecute demonstrators with crimes punishable by death, namely “waging war against God” or “moharebeh” and “corruption on earth,” according to the UN Human Rights Office.
The process has also been criticized in the country.
Mohsen Borhani, a professor at Tehran University and an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, has also challenged the use of such religion-based accusations against protesters. In a television debate last month he argued that the executed protesters were charged with waging war against God, when their role in the protests did not in fact merit such charges.
The branding of weapons by protesters, he said, was intended to intimidate, not injure, security personnel. “This is fundamentally beyond moharebeh’s scope because the person’s opposition is directed against the government, not civilians.”
Sepehri Far said Mohsen Shekari, one of the first protesters to be executed, was charged with wounding an officer. “Others have received the death penalty for extremely vague charges such as destruction and arson of public property or using a weapon to incite terror,” she said.
Activists say Iranian authorities have developed sophisticated methods to spread disinformation about how, why and when executions will be carried out. So said civil rights activist Atena Daemi in a tweetfor example, that several Iranian news outlets had reported death row activists released, news that was refuted by the prisoners’ families.
Activists have said condemning the protests is not enough. The European Union has taken note, and as the bloc continues to discuss imposing a fourth round of sanctions on Iran, some members have supported moves to classify the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
Saudi Arabia lifts restrictions on the number of pilgrims for the 2023 hajj season
Saudi Arabia aims to receive a pre-pandemic number of Muslim pilgrims for Hajj by 2023, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said in a tweet Monday. There are no age limits for Hajj pilgrims this season, which begins on June 26.
- Background: The kingdom had capped the number of pilgrims to 1,000 in 2020 and in 2021 increased the quota to nearly 60,000, but only for residents of Saudi Arabia. In 2022, the kingdom allowed one million Muslims to perform the rites. The holy sites in the cities of Mecca and Medina normally host more than 2 million people during the pilgrimage.
- Why it matters: Performing Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam that all able-bodied Muslims must perform at least once in their lifetime. Saudi Arabia has identified the pilgrimage as an important part of a plan to diversify its economy. Mecca attracted $20 billion in tourism dollars in 2018, according to Mastercard’s latest Global Destination Cities Index.
Egypt commits to the IMF to delay projects and raise fuel prices
Egypt promised a flexible currency, a greater role for the private sector and a series of monetary and fiscal reforms when it agreed a $3 billion financial support package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Reuters reported, citing a released IMF statement. report on Tuesday. Among the commitments is one to slow investment in public projects, including national projects, to reduce inflation and save foreign exchange, without specifying where the cuts could fall. Egypt also said it would allow prices of most fuel products to rise until they were in line with the country’s fuel index mechanism to offset a slowdown in such increases over the past fiscal year.
- Background: In a letter of intent to the IMF, Egypt said it was seeking support after the war in Ukraine exacerbated existing vulnerabilities amid tighter global financial conditions and higher commodity prices. Under the support, the IMF will provide Egypt with about $700 million in the fiscal year ending in June.
- Why it matters: Egypt is already suffering from economic hardship and rising inflation that has led to domestic discontent. The 2011 revolution was partly driven by economic issues and the cost of living.
Saudi Arabia plans to use domestic uranium for nuclear fuel
Saudi Arabia plans to use domestically produced uranium to build its nuclear power industry, Reuters said Wednesday, according to Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. He added that recent explorations had shown a diverse supply of uranium.
- Background: Saudi Arabia has a burgeoning nuclear program that it wants to expand to eventually include uranium enrichment, a sensitive area given its role in nuclear weapons. Riyadh has said it wants to use nuclear power to diversify its energy mix.
- Why it matters: Nuclear reactors require uranium enriched to about 5% purity, but the same technology in this process can also be used to enrich the heavy metal to higher weapons-grade levels. This issue is at the heart of Western and regional concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. It is unclear where Saudi Arabia’s ambitions end, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in 2018 that the kingdom would develop nuclear weapons if Iran did. The neighboring United Arab Emirates has committed itself not to enrich uranium and not to reprocess spent fuel.
German exports to Iran rose 12.7% last year, Reuters reported. Despite a significant deterioration in political ties between the two countries due to Iran’s brutal crackdown on demonstrators, trade relations remained intact and the value of trade rose to $1.6 billion between January and November. Berlin is currently pushing for a fourth package of sanctions from the European Union against Iran.
The Gulf state of Oman is the latest in a small group of countries to consider moving to a four-day work week.
The government has said it is exploring the possibility of extending weekends to three days instead of two, citing other countries’ success in pilots to test the move.
Salem bin Muslim Al Busaidi, an undersecretary at the Ministry of Labour, told local media that the country’s workforce has already gained more flexibility through remote working, part-time work and other initiatives to modernize the work environment.
Several countries have experimented with a four-day work week, including Iceland, Spain and Ireland, and the trials suggest the move improves productivity.
Oman’s neighbor, the UAE, has experienced some of the most dramatic changes in the country’s work environment. In addition to shifting the country’s weekend to Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday and Saturday, the country has adopted a four-and-a-half day work week in 2022.
The Emirate of Sharjah in the UAE took it a step further by introducing a four-day work week in all government sectors and allowing private companies to do the same.
According to local media, the emirate reported a 40% drop in traffic accidents in the first 8 months, an increase in worker productivity and a drop in gas emissions due to the decrease in commuting.
The onset of Covid-19 dramatically changed the working environment in the Gulf region as companies were forced to adapt to new ways of working under restrictions.
By Muhammad Abdelbary