Iran: The ‘state-sanctioned murder’ of protester Mohammad Ghobadlu

Iran: The ‘state-sanctioned murder’ of protester Mohammad Ghobadlu - Civic Space

Protest, Milan, 2023. Photo credit: DELBO ANDREA/ Shutterstock

ARTICLE 19 is appalled by news that another protester has been executed in Iran. Mohammad Ghobadlu, a 23-year-old man who took part in the ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ protests, was executed at dawn on 23 January. This execution represents a shocking and flagrant violation of human rights and a complete breakdown of the judicial process in Iran. In response, the international community must implement joint measures to impose significant diplomatic and economic consequences on Iran.

Quinn McKew, ARTICLE 19’s Executive Director, stated:

‘The international community is shockingly silent on these grave human rights violations in Iran. The space for protest and free expression is nearly non-existent. We worry that Ghobadlu’s case, without a pretense of any due process, with less than 23 hours of warning of the execution, is another horrific new chapter in the Islamic Republic’s crimes. We urge the Iranian authorities to change course, uphold the principles of justice and human rights and to cease the use of the death penalty as a tool of political repression. The international community must not remain silent in the face of such blatant disregard for fundamental human rights.’

Mohammad Ghobadlu was executed despite the Supreme Court overturning his sentence, a move that in any fair judicial system would have guaranteed him the right to appeal. In a distressing disregard for legal norms, his attorney, Amir Raeisian, was given a mere half-day’s notice of the execution. Raeisian described the act as ‘state-sanctioned murder’, especially as it bypasses the fundamental principles of justice and due process.

Ghobadlu, who was accused of fatally striking a policeman with his car during the 2022 protests in Iran, consistently maintained his innocence, a stance supported by his defence. Despite this, he was sentenced to death by Judge Abolqasem Salavati, known for issuing harsh sentences to activists and journalists. Notably, Ghobadlu received two death sentences: one for ‘corruption on Earth’ and another for murder. The ‘corruption on Earth’ charge was reportedly suspended for further investigation into the murder charge, yet this did not prevent the execution.

This case is further complicated by reports of Ghobadlu’s mental disability, as he had been under psychiatric care since the age of 15 for bipolar disorder. International law and standards prohibit the use of the death penalty against individuals with mental disabilities. It is clear that there was a lack of rigorous mental health assessments in his case. 

Ghobadlu’s case, as with the previous executions of protesters, was characterised by gross unfairness throughout the trials leading to the sentences, and marred by reports that he was tortured and forced to ‘confess’.

The execution of Mohammad Ghobadlu is part of a broader pattern of human rights violations by Iranian authorities in response to the nationwide protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini. The forceful crackdown, characterised by mass arrests, hasty sham trials, and executions, has drawn global condemnation. There are estimates that between 300 and 500 people, including over 40 children, have been killed in these protests, with thousands arrested.

ARTICLE 19 emphasizes the need for a cohesive and assertive international response to the human rights violations in Iran, highlighted by the execution of Mohammad Ghobadlu. 

Firstly, collaboration between allies, partners, and other governments is crucial. This collaboration should focus on implementing joint measures that impose significant diplomatic and economic consequences on Iran for these unjust executions. 

Secondly, it is essential that governments worldwide make bold and public statements in every relevant international forum, including press conferences, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meetings, and the UN General Assembly, forcefully denouncing these executions and demanding an immediate halt to such human rights violations. 

Lastly, diplomatic action must be initiated, with governments being urged to summon Iranian ambassadors promptly and unequivocally condemn these unlawful killings, making it clear that their continuation will lead to Iran’s severe diplomatic and economic isolation. These coordinated efforts are vital to address the ongoing crisis and uphold human rights principles.