Official media outlets produced and disseminated these videos, which are utterly unapologetic over the mass hangings. Exploiting fear among the country’s majority Shiite population is what the seem to be about; and spreading terror to the Sunni extremist group ensconced in Syria and Iraq that shares antipathy for both Iran and the West.
The hangings of 20 to 25 prisoners in Iran on Aug. 2 is one of the largest mass executions ever carried out in that country, according to human rights groups.
In a report about the videos issued Wednesday, titled “Broadcasting Injustice, Boasting of Mass Killing,” Amnesty International accuses Iran of using stage-managed confessions, falsehoods, and inflammatory screen titles like “In the Devil’s Hands” and “In the Depth of Darkness” in an attempt to justify the mass hangings to the Iranian people. The human right group alleges that the confessions covered crimes committed well after the condemned had been incarcerated, in some cases.
“By parading death row prisoners on national TV, the authorities are blatantly attempting to convince the public of their ‘guilt,’ but they cannot mask the disturbing truth that the executed men were convicted of vague and broadly defined offenses and sentenced to death after grossly unfair trials,” said Amnesty International’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Philip Luther.
Iran has been among the world’s leaders in administering the death penalty, since the 1979 Islamic revolution. It’s been applied it for a many crimes other than homicide. Prisoners convicted of drug offenses or on the more vaguely defined charge of “enmity against God”, have been victims of execution.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in an emailed reaction to the Amnesty International report, wrote, “It seems Iran has joined the region’s propaganda industry, producing slick videos featuring the apparently forced confessions of men they later executed as ‘terrorists,’ bizarrely interspersed with scary videos of Islamic State attacks they had nothing to do with.” Ms. Whitson called the role of Iranian media agencies troubling, “in producing and distributing these videos, which implicate them in a rather macabre and ugly form of abuse.”
Amnesty’s report scrutinized the confessions shown in the videos, where the condemned men describe themselves “as ‘terrorists’ and ‘heinous criminals’ who ‘deserve their punishment’. They confessed to membership in an outlawed Sunni extremist group known as Tohid and Jihad. They said the group carried out attacks and plotted assassinations. In some videos, they said they “would have committed atrocities worse than IS if we had not been stopped.”
The Amnesty International report uncovered alleged inconsistencies in the videos, and suggested that the confessions had been scripted. “In some cases, the men are linked to crimes that occurred months after they had been arrested or the nature of their involvement in the crimes attributed to them change massively from one video to another,” the report said.
Iranian officials have not responded to the Amnesty International report. Although they often ignore criticism from Amnesty International and other human rights groups, they are not immune to it.
Some countries in the European Union who are displeased over Iran’s use of the death penalty for drug-related crimes, have severed contributions to the United Nations agency that provides financial assistance for Iran’s counternarcotics campaign. Last month, Iranian media reported that Iran’s Parliament was debating a measure to reduce use of the death penalty.
Iranian judges were allowed discretion to impose alternative penalties on juveniles convicted of capital offenses in 2013. However, the way in which they have used this discretion is still unclear, but a change was seen in response to criticism of Iran for putting some children on death row.
The advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International’s Washington office, Sunjeev Bery, said “The Iranian government is sensitive to global public concern.” Mr. Bery continued, “Like many governments, Iranian officials may attempt to portray themselves as impervious to international criticism, but it can lead to many costs.”