Iran executes protester arrested in Mahsa Amini demonstrations

Mohammad Ghobadlou, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was denied medication in order to force a confession, rights groups say

Protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 spread quickly across Iran. EPA
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Iran on Tuesday executed a young man diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was arrested in 2022 during the Mahsa Amini protests, despite widespread calls for his release.

Mohammad Ghobadlou was executed on Tuesday morning after his death sentence was approved by the Supreme Court, the judiciary's Mizan news agency reported.

His lawyer Amir Raesian had warned of his imminent execution on Monday, prompting rights activists in Iran to appeal for his life to be spared.

Mr Ghobadlou, 23, was under the supervision of a psychiatric hospital for bipolar disorder since the age of 15, Amnesty International said. It said he was beaten in custody and denied his medication and that his right to a fair trial had been “flagrantly violated”.

“International law and standards prohibit using the death penalty against people with mental disabilities,” the rights group said.

He was accused of running over a security officer in Tehran in September 2022, with authorities handing down two death sentences.

Iran has reportedly executed hundreds of people over the protests sparked by the death that month of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in custody of the so-called morality police.

The demonstrations quickly spread to every province, with protesters condemning the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and calling for an end to repressive laws that curtail the rights of women.

Rights groups say about 500 people were killed and more than 20,000 arrested in the state crackdown on the protests. Although Tehran claims to have pardoned many of those detained, dozens remain on death row.

Mr Ghobadlou's death sentence was upheld and overturned several times.

Protesters crowded outside Karaj jail in January last year after reports that his execution was imminent. In March, rights groups warned he was at “grave risk” of being put to death.

Iran is routinely criticised for denying political prisoners legal representation and a fair trial.

It has publicly announced the execution of at least seven protesters from the Mahsa Amini demonstrations, leading to new western sanctions being issued.

Rights groups have said others have been executed in secret.

About 115 people were executed in relation to the protests in November, Amnesty International said, warning that authorities were on a “killing spree”.

All of the executed were accused of “corruption on Earth” over alleged involvement in the deaths of members of the Basij paramilitary, the primary force behind the suppression of the protests.

Mr Ghobadlou was denied a lawyer during interrogations and repeatedly beaten during his time in prison, in which he was also placed in solitary confinement, right groups said.

His medication was also withheld “to force his confession” that he deliberately ran over several officials with a car to cause death, Amnesty International said.

His mother appealed for his release in an emotional video from outside the prison on Monday night.

Prominent Iranian activists, including some behind bars, had appealed for the sentence to be dropped.

Mr Ghabadlou's execution “is intentional government murder and a crime”, wrote Narges Mohammadi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

“Don't leave Mohammad Ghobadlou's mother alone outside the prison walls.”

Iran has one of the world's highest execution rates and routinely puts to death prisoners accused of murder and offences related to drugs and terrorism. Charges are often levelled against political prisoners and dual citizens.

Executions surged 75 per cent in 2022, with about 528 people killed, rights groups said.

A 2023 report from the UN said Iran was carrying out executions “at an alarming rate”, putting to death about 419 people in the first seven months of the year.

Updated: January 23, 2024, 6:45 AM