By JON GAMBRELL
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran on Monday executed a second prisoner convicted of crimes committed during nationwide protests challenging the country’s theocracy, publicly hanging him from a construction crane as a horrific warning to others.
Majidreza Rahnavard’s execution came less than a month after he allegedly fatally stabbed two members of a paramilitary force after allegedly getting angry at the killing of protesters by security forces.
The development underscores the speed with which Iran is now carrying out death sentences handed down to those detained during the protests the government hopes to quell.
Activists warn that at least a dozen people have already been sentenced to death in closed hearings. At least 488 people have been killed since the protests began in mid-September, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the protests. Another 18,200 people were arrested by the authorities.
Iran’s Mizan news agency, which reports to the country’s judiciary, published a collage of images of Rahnavard hanging from the crane, his hands and feet bound, a black bag over his head.
Masked members of the security forces stood guard outside concrete and metal barriers that held back a crowd gathered early Monday morning in the Iranian city of Mashhad.
Mizan claimed that Rahnavard stabbed two members of the security forces to death on November 17 in Mashhad and injured four others.
Footage shown on state television showed a man chasing another around a street corner, then standing over him and stabbing him after he fell into a parked motorcycle. Another showed the same man stabbing another immediately afterwards. The attacker, who state television said was Rahnavard, then fled.
The Mizan report identified the dead as Basij “students”, volunteer paramilitaries under Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Basij (ba-SEEJ’) deployed in major cities, attacking and detaining protesters, who in many cases fought back.
A heavily edited state television report aired after Rahnavard’s execution showed clips of him in the courtroom. In the video, he says he came to hate the Basijis after seeing video clips on social media of the forces beating and killing protesters.
The Mizan Report accused Rahnavard of trying to flee to a foreign country when he was arrested.
Mashhad, a Shiite holy city, is located about 740 kilometers (460 miles) east of the Iranian capital, Tehran. Activists say he has seen strikes, closed shops and protests amid the unrest that began after the September 16 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by police Iranian customs.
Mizan said Rahnavard was sentenced by the Revolutionary Court in Mashhad. The courts have been internationally criticized for not allowing those on trial to choose their own lawyers or even see the evidence against them.
Rahnavard had been convicted of “moharebeh”, a Farsi word meaning “waging war against God”. This charge was made against others in the decades following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and carries the death penalty.
In the images of his execution, a banner bearing a Quranic verse: “Indeed, the reward of those who make war against Allah and His Apostle, and try to sow corruption on the earth, is that they will be killed or crucified , or have their hands and feet cut off on either side, or they be banished from the land.
Public executions with a crane have been rare in recent years, although Iran used the same manner of hanging to quell unrest after the disputed 2009 presidential election and subsequent Green Movement protests.
Typically, the convicts are alive when the crane lifts them off their feet, suspended by a rope and struggling to breathe before suffocating or breaking their necks.
Activists have lobbied companies supplying cranes to Iran in the past, warning they could be used for executions.
From Brussels, European Union foreign ministers expressed dismay at the latest execution. The bloc on Monday approved a new round of sanctions against Iran for its crackdown on protesters, as well as supplying drones to Russia for use in its war against Ukraine, the bloc’s diplomacy chief said. .
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he had spoken to Iran’s foreign minister about Tehran’s response to the protests and the latest execution and that it was “not an easy conversation “.
“We are going to approve a very, very tough set of sanctions,” Borrell told reporters as he arrived to chair the ministerial meeting in Brussels. Finland’s foreign minister said he also called his Iranian counterpart.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the execution a “blatant attempt to intimidate” Iranians.
“We are making it clear that we stand with the innocent people in Iran,” Baerbock said upon arriving at the Brussels meeting. “A system that treats its citizens in this way cannot hope to continue to have half-normal relations with the European Union.”
Iran is one of the best executioners in the world and usually executes prisoners by hanging. He executed the first prisoner detained during protests last Thursday. So far this year it has executed more than 500 prisoners, the highest number in five years, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.
“Without serious measures to deter the Islamic Republic from executing protesters, we will face even more horrific crimes like the mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s,” the group warned on Monday. This refers to the 1988 executions, partly overseen by current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, which activists say saw up to 5,000 inmates put to death.
Amnesty International said it had obtained a document signed by a senior Iranian police official calling for the execution of a prisoner to be ‘completed’ as soon as possible ‘and for his death sentence to be carried out in public as ‘a gesture comforting towards the security forces.’
Amid the unrest, Iran is also being hit by an economic crisis which has seen the national currency, the rial, fall to new lows against the US dollar.
Associated Press writers Lorne Cook in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.