These killings have been condemned by Human rights groups who say that the convictions may have been based on forced confessions. Even the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said there were “serious doubts about the fairness of the trials, as well as respect for due process and other rights of the accused”.
Hossein Abedini, the UK spokesperson for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) , which is a coalition of Iranian opposition political organizations functioning as a parliament in exile, condemned the executions and urged the UK to hold Iran accountable. He said, “Under President Hassan Rouhani, who has presented himself as a ‘moderate’, human rights violations have rapidly deteriorated. In total, around 120,000 people are believed to have been executed since 1981 for their political or religious beliefs, and the figure has escalated since Rouhani became president”.
Abedini also declared the UK’s relative silence as “shameful”, saying, “Things have deteriorated and worsened as far as human rights are concerned. There have been 2,500 hangings [since Rouhani came to power in 2013, many juveniles and women have been executed, and religious minorities, especially Christians, are suffering in Iran very badly… There is no freedom for religious minorities; they cannot practice their religion [and they suffer] very brutal and cruel human rights violations.”
It’s dangerous to be a Christian in Iran. Open churches are forbidden, and converting from Islam is a crime, punishable by death for men, and life imprisonment for women. More than 100 Christians were arrested or imprisoned last year, and there have been reports of torture. Iran’s human rights abuses and violence is facilitated by laws allowing legal persecution of minority communities like Christians and Baha’i Muslims.
“There is no religious freedom in Iran,” said Abedini. “The regime itself is the most ungodly regime.” In 2014, President Rouhani himself described executions under his rule as the fulfilment of “God’s commandments.”
However, Abedini said the majority of Muslims want to distance the brutal punishments from true Islam. “We believe this is only a fundamentalist regime carrying out [executions] in the name of God and in the name of religion,” he said. “Islam is a religion of compassion and mercy…. [The executions are] absolutely abhorrent, and have got nothing to do with true Islam.”
This weekend is the anniversary of the 1988 executions of political prisoners in Iran, and this protest also speaks to that crime, as the strikers call for the British government to not only to hold Iran to account for its wider human rights violations, but also to recognize and condemn this massacre. Amnesty International documented the disappearance of more than 4,400 prisoners, though opposition groups say as many as 30,000 were killed.
Omid Ebrahimi, whose father was held as a political prisoner in Iran for a decade, and who lost several members of his mother’s family, who were executed during this time. “For us, this was one of the darkest days in the history of human beings,” Ebrahimi told Christian Today. “And for this, we call upon all western governments, and in particular the British government, to condemn the massacre.” Ebrahimi insisted that “The regime hasn’t changed at all,” and added, “This can only be solved one way, and that’s a regime change.”
Conservative MP Matthew Offord, who joined a number of political and church leaders at the NCRI’s annual conference in Paris last month, sent a message offering his “best wishes” to those on hunger strike, adding that “the mass execution of Sunni political prisoners is deeply disturbing”.
Four bishops and others issued a joint statement prior to the NCRI’s annual conference, setting out their “grave concern” at Iran’s human rights situation. They said, “Repression of Christians has not only continued but intensified during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani.” The statement also said, “In such circumstances, we call on all Western countries to consider the deplorable situation of human rights in Iran, particularly the painful situation of Christians and the intensification of their oppression, in navigating their relations with Iran. We call upon them to precondition improvement of those relations on the cessation of oppression of Christians and on a halt in executions.”