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Iranian refugees and Iranians living in Greece lit candles forming the name 'Mahsa' during a demonstration to commemorate 40 days from the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini while in police custody, in central Athens. Image Credit: AFP file

Geneva: UN rights experts called on Iranian authorities on Friday to stop indicting people with charges punishable by death simply for participating in the demonstrations rocking the country.

“We urge Iranian authorities to stop using the death penalty as a tool to squash protests,” more than a dozen independent UN experts said in a statement.

The experts, including the UN special rapporteurs on the rights situation in Iran, on arbitrary executions and on the right to freedom of expression, also called on Tehran to “immediately release all protesters who have been arbitrarily deprived of their liberty”.

Iran has been rocked by eight weeks of protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress rules for women based on Islamic sharia law.

The experts said at least 304 people had been killed in the brutal crackdown on the protests, which were fanned by fury over the restrictive dress rules for women but which have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 fall of the shah.

Thousands of peaceful protesters have also been arrested, including many women, children and youth, lawyers, activists and journalists, they said.

The experts, who are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council but do not speak on behalf of the world body, voiced deep concern at charges brought on October 29 against eight people in Tehran for “waging war against God” and “corruption on Earth”, which carry the death penalty.

Two days later, they said, the Tehran prosecutor said around 1,000 indictments had been issued in connection with recent “riots”.

And they pointed out that last week, “in blatant violation of the separation of powers, 227 members of parliament called on the judiciary to act decisively against people arrested during the protests and to carry out punishment carrying the death penalty.”

“With the continuous repression of protests, many more indictments on charges carrying the death penalty and death sentences might soon be issued,” they warned.

The experts voiced particular concern that “women and girls, who have been at the forefront of protests... might be particularly targeted.”

They warned that the death penalty had been widely imposed against protesters since nationwide demonstrations erupted three years ago, “under unsubstantiated murder charges or vague national security charges”.

“In 2020, at least two individuals were executed following their participation in protests,” they said.

The experts called on the Human Rights Council to urgently hold a special session about the situation in Iran, and to launch an international investigation in a bid to “ensure accountability in Iran and to end the persistent impunity for grave human rights violations”.