Iran remains one of the world’s top executioners, having put to death at least 203 prisoners since the start of this year alone, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights. But carrying out executions for blasphemy remains rare, as previous cases saw the sentences reduced by authorities.
The two men executed, Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare, died at Arak Prison in central Iran. They had been arrested in May 2020, accused of being involved in a channel on the Telegram message app called “Critique of Superstition and Religion,” according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Both men faced months of solitary confinement and could not contact their families, the commission said.
The Mizan news agency of Iran’s judiciary confirmed the executions, describing the two men as having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and promoted atheism.
Mizan also accused them of burning a Quran, Islam’s holy book, though it wasn’t clear whether the men allegedly did that or such imagery was shared in the Telegram channel.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, who leads Iran Human Rights, decried the executions as exposing the “medieval nature” of Iran’s theocracy.
“The international community must show with its reaction that executions for expressing an opinion is intolerable,” he said in a statement. “The refusal of the international community to react decisively is a green light for the Iranian government and all their like-minded people around the world.”
It wasn’t immediately clear when Iran carried out its last execution for blasphemy. Other countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, also allow for death sentences to be imposed for blasphemy.
The streak of executions, including members of ethnic minority groups in Iran, comes as monthslong protests over the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police have cooled.
Already, at least four people charged over alleged crimes from the demonstrations have been put to death. The protests, which reportedly saw over 500 people killed and 19,000 others arrested, marked one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In 2022, Iran executed at least 582 people, up from 333 people in 2021, according to Iran Human Rights. Amnesty International’s most-recent report on executions put Iran as the world’s second-largest executioner, behind only China, where thousands are believed to be put to death a year.