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Iran's Unjust Executions for "Insulting the Prophet"

May 15, 2023
Faramarz Davar
3 min read
“Brother” by Ali Golestaneh (1940-2021)
“Brother” by Ali Golestaneh (1940-2021)

In early May, the Islamic Republic executed two men on charges of “insulting the Prophet” and “insulting Islamic sanctities.” Carrying out executions for blasphemy are very rare in Iran, as previous cases saw the sentences reduced by authorities.

In 2002, the Iranian judiciary sentenced Hashem Aghajari, a university professor and historian, to death for apostasy for making a speech urging Iranians to "not blindly follow" Islamic clerics. Following a domestic and international outcry, his sentence was reduced in 2004 to five years in prison after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ordered a retrial.

Two decades later, the judiciary hanged two Iranians on the same charges after an opaque judicial process and amid a dramatic surge in executions. 

Death penalty on charges of insulting Prophet Muhammad and Islamic sanctities is one of the hudud punishments that are mandatory under Islamic jurisprudence, and the legislators of the Islamic Republic consider them divine orders that cannot be disputed. However, many Shia clergymen believe that such punishment cannot be carried out during the “Absence” of the “Hidden Imam,” the Shia Messiah. Others believes that hudud are allowed only when all Islamic commands such as Islamic banking and Islamic education have been carried out. And, according to Khamenei himself, Iran has an Islamic government but society is not Islamic and not all Islamic commands are carried out.

Even the Islamic Penal Code of the Islamic Republic sets so many conditions for executing a defendant for insulting the Prophet or Islamic sanctities that it practically makes it impossible to hand down capital punishment on such charges.

The judiciary cited articles 262 and 513 of the Islamic Penal Code to charge the two men who were recently executed.

Article 262 states: “Anyone who swears at or insults the Great Prophet [of Islam] or any of the Great Prophets, shall be considered a Prophet-insulter and shall be sentenced to death. Note: Insulting, or swearing at, the [twelve Shia] Imams or the Holy Fatemeh [daughter of Prophet Mohammad] shall be regarded insulting the Prophet.”

And Article 513 states: “If considered a Prophet-insulter, any person who insults the sacred values of Islam or any of Great Prophets or the [twelve Shia] imams or the Holy Fatemeh shall be punishable by the death penalty; otherwise shall be sentenced to one to five years imprisonment.”

However, another article in the Islamic Penal Code affords the defendant a defense, and the judiciary has ignored this article.

According to a note attached to Article 263 of the Islamic Penal Code, “When a person insults the Prophet in a state of drunkenness, or anger or quoting someone else, if it is considered to be an insult, the offender shall be sentenced to a punishment of up to seventy-four lashes.”

The judiciary of the Islamic Republic says that the two accused ran Telegram channels where they insulted Islamic sanctities, but it conceded that they had removed these channels before they were arrested, meaning that they had become aware that they were committing a “sin.”

The two men were sentenced to death through an extremely opaque judicial process, and nothing has been reported about their defense. Assuming that they have had a chance to present a minimal defense, they must have argued that they committed the acts they were accused of out of ignorance and that they had no intention of committing blasphemy.

Therefore, sentencing them to death based on articles 262 and 513 and carrying out the executions was illegal and an example of extra-judicial executions. The court and the judiciary as a whole are abusing their power by bypassing the Islamic Republic's laws and by handing down illegal death sentences.



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