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5/09/2023 Iran (International Christian Concern) – Iran executed two Iranian men for alleged charges of blasphemy. Yusef Mehrdad and Sadrullah Fazeli Zare were sentenced to death by hanging after they were arrested in May 2020 for sharing content that “insulted Islamic sanctities” and “insulted the Prophet.”  

Reports show that during their imprisonment, the two were denied family visits and phone calls and at times, were held in solitary confinement. Mehrdad and Zare leave behind several family members, including three children and an elderly mother, respectively. 

These executions follow months of unrest in the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Zhina Amini was arrested for improperly wearing the hijab and died in police custody. Iran has seen nationwide protests calling for increased human rights and an overthrow of the Islamic government. Shannon Kleinbaum, a Commissioner from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), cites the recent executions as an example of Iran’s desperation to “…maintain power through force.” Kleinbaum further shared, “I think that there is a sense that Iran is increasingly desperate. And when we know authoritarian theocracies are desperate, they often turn to very, very extreme acts.” 

According to one Iran Human Rights Group, the number of executions in Iran rose by 75% in 2022 – and with more than 200 prisoners having already been executed since the start of this year, some estimate that Iran is on track to beat last year’s record.  

Besides China, Iran maintains the highest number of executions carried out annually, many of whom are executed for their religious beliefs. In Iran, the death penalty is permitted as a punishment for blasphemy.  

According to Article 513 of the Iranian Penal Code, “Any person [who] insults the sacred values of Islam or any of Great Prophets or the [twelve Shi’ite] imams or the Holy Fatemeh [daughter of Prophet Mohammad], if considered as sāb-al-nabi shall be punishable by the death penalty; otherwise shall be sentenced to one to five years imprisonment.” 

For Christians and other religious minorities living in Iran, provisions like these make following a minority faith extremely dangerous. According to USCIRF’s Freedom of Religion or Belief Victims database, more than 150 individuals are currently detained or imprisoned by the Iranian government for their religious beliefs. Many of these prisoners will face egregiously long prison sentences, solitary confinement, lack access to fair representation, and at worst, face the death penalty. 

In response to Iran’s latest executions, USCIRF shared that they were “…alarmed by the continued enforcement of blasphemy provisions around the world,” and that “the existence and enforcement of such laws… undermines freedom of religion or belief.”  

Vice Chair of USCIRF, Abraham Cooper, furthered with, “The use of any law criminalizing blasphemy represents an egregious violation of religious freedom. USCIRF will continue to denounce prosecutions and punishments carried out on the basis of so-called blasphemy.”

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