Iranian Social Media May Have Saved Three Anti-Government Protesters From Execution

They were sentenced to death for protesting the regime, but an online campaign may have forced the government to reconsider.
July 16, 2020, 3:10pm
Three anti-government protesters facing execution.
Amirhossein Moradi, Mohammad Rajabi and Saeed Tamjidi. Photo courtesy of IRH

The Iranian Supreme Court is set to reconsider its decision to uphold the execution of three anti-government protesters, thanks to a large social media campaign. Amirhossein Moradi, 25, Saeed Tamjidi, 27, and Mohammad Rajabi, 27, were arrested last November during large nationwide protests against the Iranian regime. In February, the men were charged with participating in vandalism, arson and "war with the Islamic Republic of Iran", and sentenced to death.

Their lawyers complained that their confessions were extorted through beatings and torture. They appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which upheld the previous decision earlier this week – and that could have been the end of it. After all, Iran is second to China in executions per year, with 251 in 2019 alone.

However, millions took to social media to protest the decision, using the hashtag #DoNotExecute. According to Twitter, the Farsi version of the hashtag was used 4.5 million times on Tuesday alone, by users ranging from regular people to local and international celebrities. Actress Nazanin Boniadi, two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, football player Hossein Mahini and even Donald Trump weighed in. Posts using the hashtag also appeared on Instagram and Telegram.

Mojtaba Pourmohsen, a journalist at Iran International TV, told VICE News that the sheer size of the movement – combined with the insecurities facing the country – might have pressured the Iranian regime into reconsidering. "Pressure from social media does influence the regime," he said, "[which is why] they actively censor the social media activities of many Iranians."

Dissent is punished harshly in Iran, so even taking to social media can be risky. The internet monitoring organisation Net Block reported that multiple networks across the country were disrupted, in an apparent effort to block internet users from expressing their sympathy for the young men online. "The regime wants to send the message to the Iranian people that if you come to streets, we will kill you," Mojtaba added.

The protests last November started after the US pulled out of the nuclear deal in May of 2018 and Iran’s economy suffered a major downward turn. People angry about a 50 percent increase in the price of gasoline took to the streets, but the protests quickly turned into a larger outcry about the regime’s corruption and oppression. The demonstrations were violently repressed, with thousands of people arrested and at least 304 killed, according to Amnesty international.

Today, Iran is dealing with the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the Middle East, which has killed over 13,000 people, according to the regime. Plus, the local currency is rapidly losing value and commodity prices are on the rise. Experts fear that Iranians might be reaching a boiling point. "Iranian people are tired of this regime and want to see change," Pourmohsen said.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.