Iran on Monday hanged four members of its Kurdish minority on charges of spying for Israel, defying a campaign for their lives to be spared by rights groups who had described their trial as grossly unfair.
The four men were executed at dawn after they were convicted of collaborating with Israel on a plan to sabotage an Iranian defence site in the central province of Isfahan, according to the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.
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It accused them of being “members of a group affiliated with the Zionist spy organisation”, in apparent reference to the Israeli intelligence service Mossad. It did not refer to their Kurdish ethnicity which has been emphasised by several rights groups.
There was already alarm that the lives of the four, all aged under 30, were in danger after relatives were on Sunday summoned for a final meeting with them before they were hanged in Ghezel Hesar prison in the Tehran satellite city of Karaj.
Their hanging comes as concern grows over a surge in executions in Iran, which has seen on average two people executed every day so far this month according to campaigners.
Amnesty International said it was “horrified by today’s arbitrary execution” of the four men, whom it described as “Iranian Kurdish dissidents” sentenced to death “after a grossly unfair secret trial”.
It described their arrests in July 2022 as an “enforced disappearance” and said Iran had “relentlessly harassed and intimidated their families for advocating for their loved ones”.
– ‘Neither forgive nor forget’ –
“The execution of these four prisoners was based on confessions under torture and without a fair trial, and is considered an extrajudicial killing,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group.
According to IHR’s toll, at least 65 people have been executed in Iran so far this year.
The wife of Mohsen Mazloum, one of the executed men, lashed out at the decision in a post on X, formerly Twitter.
“I will neither forgive nor forget today! I have nothing else to say,” wrote Joanna Taimasi.
Taimasi, who now lives outside Iran, had in the last days campaigned for the lives of the four to be spared on social media and through appearances on Persian-language TV channels.
The Kurdish-focused rights group Hengaw said the four, aged between 26 and 28 and all from Kurdish-populated regions of western Iran, “were deprived of their fundamental rights to legal representation, visits, and even communication with their families”.
An open letter from 20 rights groups, including IHR, urged the United Nations’ deputy high commissioner for human rights, Nada Al-Nashif, to “reconsider” a planned visit to Iran due to begin on Friday, given the “alarming” rise in executions and risk the trip could be used as a “propaganda tool” by Tehran.
– Tensions high –
The spike in executions last week also saw the hanging of Mohammad Ghobadlou, 23, who was the ninth man to be executed in connection with the nationwide protests that swept Iran from September 2022.
Iranian authorities had said that the four men executed on Monday were recruited by Mossad “about a year and a half before the operation”.
They were sent to African countries for “training courses in the military centres” where Mossad officers were present, the judiciary added.
The men were sentenced to death in September 2023.
In August 2023, Iran claimed to have foiled a “very complex” Mossad-initiated project to “sabotage” its ballistic missile industry.
In February of that year, Teheran accused Israel of being responsible for a drone attack on a military site in Isfahan.
The two countries have been engaged in a shadow war for decades, with Iran regularly accusing Israel and its ally the United States of inciting unrest.
Tensions are also running high amid the war in Gaza sparked by the attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel on October 7. Iran denied on Monday any links to a drone strike in Jordan that killed three US military personnel.