US asks Iran not to execute three protesters

An Iranian policeman prepares to carry out a death sentence in Tehran, Iran. [Reuters]

The U.S. State Department has called on Iran not to carry out the possibly imminent execution of three men that Tehran arrested during anti-government protests that spread throughout the country last year following the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman who morality police detained for improperly wearing a hijab.

The State Department told reporters that the execution of Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirhashemi and Saeed Yaghoubi would be an affront to human rights.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said the Iranian Supreme Court had upheld their death sentences after state media broadcast their forced "confessions" to a charge of "enmity against God."

The three men were arrested in the city of Esfahan last November as they protested the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested by the country's morality police last September and died while in police custody.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement, "The shocking manner in which the trial and sentencing of these protesters was fast-tracked through Iran's judicial system amid the use of torture-tainted 'confessions,' serious procedural flaws and a lack of evidence is another example of the Iranian authorities' brazen disregard for the rights to life and fair trial."

Amnesty International said the families of the three men were allowed to see them Wednesday but were also told it would be their last visitation with them.

Hundreds of protesters, and some Iranian security agents, have been killed in the months of demonstrations.

On Monday Iranian authorities executed five people over "armed drug smuggling" in the south of the country.

The convicts, "all criminals and armed drug smugglers," had been sentenced to death by hanging in a verdict upheld by Iran's top court, the judiciary's website Mizan Online quoted Mojtaba Ghahramani, Chief Justice of the southern province of Hormozgan, as saying.

In the month of January Pope Francis broke his silence on the nationwide protests convulsing Iran, denouncing the recourse to the death penalty there and seemingly legitimizing the rallies as demonstrations "demanding greater respect for the dignity of women."

Francis made the comments in an annual speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, a foreign policy speech outlining the areas of greatest concern for the Holy See.

Francis linked the Vatican's opposition to abortion to its opposition to the death penalty, saying both are a violation of the fundamental right to life. Francis has changed church teaching on the death penalty, ruling it is "inadmissible" in all circumstances.

"The right to life is also threatened in those places where the death penalty continues to be imposed, as is the case in these days in Iran, following the recent demonstrations demanding greater respect for the dignity of women," Francis said. "The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported state justice, since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance."