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15,000 protesters have not been sentenced to death in Iran, despite viral posts
If Your Time is short
One protester was sentenced to death on Nov. 13 after being accused of setting a government building on fire.
Most of Iran’s parliamentarians called on the judiciary to decisively punish arrested protesters. Iran’s judiciary, not its parliament, is in charge of convicting people.
More than 14,000 people have been arrested for protesting in Iran, after the alleged police killing of a woman arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf improperly.
Iran has a well-documented history of using the death penalty against protesters.
Stunning news out of Iran grabbed the attention of numerous celebrities and Canada’s prime minister. The only problem: it was wrong.
"Iran sentences 15,000 protesters to death — as a ‘hard lesson’ for all rebels," read an Instagram post that showed a photo of a woman holding an Iranian flag.
Given Iran’s human rights history, the post’s statement seemed plausible to some. The post was shared multiple times including by celebrities including Peter Frampton, Viola Davis and Sophie Turner. It even reached Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who took to Twitter to denounce the Iranian government over the development.
Posts by Davis, Turner and Trudeau have since been removed. A Canadian government spokesperson told CNN Trudeau’s tweet had been deleted because it "was informed by initial reporting that was incomplete and lacked necessary context."
But posts like these were flagged as part of Instagram’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
They appeared to have conflated three pieces of news. One, that an Iranian court sentenced a protester to death because of charges of setting a government building on fire. Two, that the United Nations reported that as many as 14,000 protesters have been arrested in Iran over six weeks. And three, that most of Iran’s parliament has called on the judiciary to act decisively against the arrested protesters.
So far, one protester has been sentenced to death in Iran — not 15,000.
A Nov. 10 Newsweek article may have inspired the initial confusion. It carried a headline that said, "Iran Protesters Refuse to Back Down as 15,000 Face Execution" and said the Iranian parliament had voted in favor of the death penalty for protesters. The story was corrected Nov. 15 to note what fact-checkers pointed out: there was no indication such a mass execution was a certainty. "This article and headline were updated to remove the reference to the Iranian Parliament voting for death sentences," the correction read. "A majority of the parliament supported a letter to the judiciary calling for harsh punishments of protesters, which could include the death penalty."
Protests broke out across Iran after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died Sept. 16 while in police custody. The morality police had arrested Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian, for allegedly violating Iran's dress code by wearing her headscarf improperly. The Iranian government has rebutted claims that she died because of blows to her head, saying she died as a result of pre-existing medical conditions.
In early November, Javaid Rehman, special rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, said as many as 14,000 people had been arrested in Iran during the protests, CNN reported.
Estimates from Human Rights Activists News Agency, a nonprofit advocacy organization, put the number closer to 16,000 as of Nov. 13.
On Nov. 6, 227 of Iran’s 290 parliamentarians called for the judiciary to consider severe punishments against the arrested protesters.
"We, the representatives of this nation, ask all state officials, including the Judiciary, to treat those, who waged war (against the Islamic establishment) and attacked people’s life and property like the Daesh (terrorists), in a way that would serve as a good lesson in the shortest possible time," the officials said, according to reports from Iranian state media.
However the parliament’s call is not an official sentencing. Iran’s judiciary branch is in charge of sentencing.
Experts from the United Nations decried the parliament’s decision, calling it a "blatant violation of the separation of powers" and urging "Iranian authorities to stop using the death penalty as a tool to squash protests."
The U.N. experts said eight people have been charged with crimes carrying the death penalty: "waging war against God" or "moharebeh" and "corruption on earth."
Other sources reported different numbers. Skylar Thompson, an advocacy coordinator of Human Rights Activists News Agency, told PolitiFact on Nov. 15 that nine arrested protesters face charges that could carry the death penalty. A Norway-based human rights nonprofit, Iran Human Rights, put the number at around 20.
The international human rights group Amnesty International said that in 2021, Iran had 314 death penalty executions, the second highest after China. As of July, Amnesty International put Iran’s 2022 figure at 251.
Iran has long instituted the death penalty in protest-related cases, giving people charged with these crimes limited access to lawyers and subjecting them to torture and abuse from authorities, according to Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group.
An instagram post claimed "Iran sentences 15,000 protesters to death."
Although Iran has a history of using the death penalty as punishment following reportedly unfair trials, it so far has sentenced one protester to death, not 15,000.
The protester sentenced to death was accused of setting a government building on fire. The U.N. has reported that more than 14,000 protesters have been arrested in Iran since September. At least eight of them have been charged with crimes punishable by death, according to U.N. experts. Most of the country’s parliament called on the judiciary to serve punishments against the protesters. But the judiciary has not acted on that.
We rate this claim False.
Email exchange, Skylar Thompson, Human Rights Activists News Agency advocacy coordinator, Nov. 15, 2022
CNN, As many as 14,000 arrested in Iran over last six weeks, United Nations says, Nov. 3, 2022
Instagram, post, Nov. 14, 2022
Peter Frampton, tweet, Nov. 14, 2022
PolitiTweet, Justin Trudeau, accessed Nov. 15, 2022
CNN, Canada’s Trudeau deletes tweet falsely claiming Iran has sentenced 15,000 protesters to death, Nov. 15, 2022
Newsweek, Iran Protesters Refuse to Back Down as 15,000 Face Execution, Nov. 10, 2022
Verify, No, 15,000 protesters in Iran were not sentenced to death, Nov. 14, 2022
NBC, Mahsa Amini did not die from blows to body, Iranian coroner says amid widespread protests, Oct. 7, 2022
Twitter, Human Rights Activists News Agency, Nov. 14, 2022
Press TV, Iranian lawmakers ask Judiciary to severely punish agents, inciters of riots, Nov. 6, 2022
Constitute Project, Iran (Islamic Republic of)'s Constitution of 1979 with Amendments through 1989, April 27, 2022
United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Iran: Stop sentencing peaceful protesters to death, say UN experts, Nov. 11, 2022
Iran Human Rights, Unnamed Iran Protester Sentenced to Death; Risk of Hasty Executions, Nov. 14, 2022
Amnesty International, Death Penalty 2021: Facts and Figures, May 24, 2022
Amnesty International, Iran: Horrific wave of executions must be stopped, July 27, 2022
Human Rights Watch, Iran: Death Penalty for Protest-Related Charges, July 10, 2020
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15,000 protesters have not been sentenced to death in Iran, despite viral posts
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