Iranian courts have handed down death sentences against at least four ethnic Baluch men over the past few days, activists say, as the Islamic republic tries to suppress an anti-government protest movement that has swept the country for nearly four months.
According to the latest information available, the authorities have executed 151 Baluch citizens in 2022, compared to 70 the previous year. At least 81 were hanged over the last four months of 2022, amid a brutal state crackdown on the nationwide protests demanding more freedoms and women’s rights.
The protests were triggered by the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, while in police custody for allegedly wearing a headscarf improperly.
The demonstrations and clampdown on dissent have been particularly intense in the country’s western Kurdish areas and the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan.
The impoverished province is home to Iran's Baluch minority of up to 2 million people. Human rights groups say the Baluch community has faced discrimination and repression for decades.
Baluch rights activists say Shoaib Mirbaluchzehi, 18, Ebrahim Narouei, 25, Kambiz Kharoot, 20, and a 20-years-old disabled man, Mansour Dehmordeh, have been put on death row in Sistan and Baluchestan in recent days for allegedly voicing opposition against Iran’s clerical rulers.
"By issuing these death sentences, they want to intimidate people," activist Habibullah Sarbazi told IranWire on January 12.
Each week on Fridays, hundreds of people are taking to the streets of Zahedan and other cities across Sistan and Baluchestan despite the heavy presence of security forces, chanting slogans against the Islamic republic.
Zahedan, the provincial capital, has seen the deadliest violence so far in the ongoing nationwide protest movement. On September 30, security forces in the city killed 92 people, including 12 children, after firing live ammunition, metal pellets and teargas at protesters, bystanders and worshippers, according to IranWire sources. Four security forces were also killed that day.
"After the Bloody Friday massacre in Zahedan, two more massacres were carried out, but they did not stop the people. The protest also spread to other cities of the province. In response, the government has increased arrests. They arrested 100 people in just one day last week and more than 150 people in three days," Sarbazi added.
Mirbaluchzehi was arrested by agents of the Ministry of Intelligence on October 5 last year.
During his two-week interrogation in Zahedan Intelligence Detention Center, his jailers subjected Mirbaluchzehi to severe physical and mental torture to obtain a confession, according to Ahmed Shirani, co-founder of HAALVSH, a group that monitors rights violations of the Sunni minority in Iran.
Mirbaluchzehi was also prevented from contacting his family.
"Shoaib was ill and went to a pharmacy with a prescription to get medicine. The pharmacy he visited is near Makki Mosque. When he was about to enter the pharmacy, the intelligence forces, who were already there, arrested Shoaib and checked his phone. There were some clips related to Zahedan's protests on his phone, which they used as an excuse to detain him," Shirani said.
Dehmordeh, who has a physical condition, worked on buses until his arrest on October 3. He had a tooth and his nose broken while being subjected to severe torture in an intelligence detention center.
The man went on trial on January 3 and was informed of his sentence by the judge two days later, according to HAALVSH.
"Mansour told the judge in court that he only threw three stones and set a tyre on fire, and the judge replied that anyone who protests against [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei's government will be sentenced to death," the group quoted a source as saying.
Narouei was arrested on October 3 and has also been tortured while in detention.
Khoroot was arrested on October 1. Criminal Branch 2 of Zahedan’s Shaheed Nouri Court sentenced him to death on the charges of "waging war against God" and "corruption in the Earth through riots."
All four convicts have been deprived of having a lawyer.
Overall, the Iranian security forces have killed more than 500 people across the country, including dozens of children, and detained over 18,000 others since the protest movement kicked off in September, human rights activists say.
At least 100 protesters are currently at risk of “execution, death penalty charges or sentences,” one rights group said in December. The execution of four young men over the past month in connection with the protests triggered international condemnation.