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The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Campaign of Mass Execution

Sunday, May 21st, 2023

This week’s core story is about: Iran’s campaign of mass execution.


Russia launched its ninth wave of missile attacks on Kyiv this month, though Ukraine says it destroyed nearly every incoming missile. Officials say debris falling from the air still caused damage in two districts, and one person died and two were wounded after a missile strike on the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Leaders of the world’s seven most powerful democracies gathered at the annual G7 Summit in Hiroshima. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrived Saturday in an attempt to galvanize support as leaders ramp up pressure on Moscow. Zelenskyy’s visit also came just hours after the U.S. agreed to allow training on powerful American-made F-16 fighter jets, paving the way for their eventual transfer to Ukraine.

Special counsel John Durham issued a long-awaited report detailing the FBI’s decision to investigate the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Durham harshly criticized the FBI and ultimately concluded its decision to open an investigation was “seriously flawed,” but experts say the report offers little more than a rehashing of old findings and a critique of the FBI overreacting to shaky information. The report dashes Republicans’ dream of indicting Hilary Clinton and dispels Donald Trump’s lies about what he’s called “the crime of the century.”

Disney dropped its plans to build a new $1 billion Florida campus and move more than 2,000 employees to the state from California, citing the return of CEO Bob Iger and “changing business conditions.” The announcement comes a week after Iger said the ongoing dispute with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis raised questions about whether the company should continue to invest in the state.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s Campaign of Mass Execution

Iranian soccer fans hold up signs reading Woman Life Freedom and Freedom For Iran, prior to the World Cup soccer match between England and Iran in Qatar in November 2022


Executions in Iran have surged in recent years as the Islamic Republic wields the death penalty as a savage tool of intimidation and oppression, including three executions on Friday that rights groups say were the result of sham trials and tortured confessions. So, what does the research say about the death penalty in Iran? And how can Western nations address the Iranian regime’s onslaught on the right to life?

What’s happening:

The Islamic Republic of Iran executed Majid Kazemi, Saleh Mirhashemi, and Saeed Yaghoubi on Friday, accusing the three men of killing two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and a police officer in November during the nationwide “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests sparked after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died while in the custody of the country’s morality police.

Amnesty International says the three men were tortured and forced into televised confessions after the country’s Supreme Court “rubber-stamped” the convictions and ushered the men to their deaths. The group called the executions an illustration of the regime’s “flagrant disregard for the rights to life and a fair trial.”

The executions are part of what Human Rights Watch describes as a “dramatic escalation” by Iranian authorities in recent weeks. Since late April, at least 60 people have been executed in Iran, including an Iranian-Swedish national on alleged terror charges. The organization says many of the executions are based on unfair trials or charges that shouldn’t result in the death penalty under international law, like drug offenses.

So, what does the research say about the Islamic Republic’s campaign of mass execution? And what can Western nations do to stem the terrifying trend? Let’s dive in.

What the research says:

A new report jointly produced by Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) and Paris-based Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM) found executions in Iran surged 75% in 2022, with at least 582 people put to death last year, the most since 2015. The executions included at least two people who were publicly hanged, marking the return of public executions after a two-year hiatus.

Of the nearly 600 executions last year, just 12% (71) were publicly announced, down from 17% in 2021 and well below the average of 33% each year from 2018 to 2020. The IHR and ECPM say censorship surrounding executions in the country is at a 10-year high.

The report found 256 people (44%) were executed for drug-related offenses in 2022, up 60% from 2021 (126 people) and a tenfold increase from 2020 (25). The IHR and ECPM say executions for drug charges are especially heinous, as drug crimes shouldn’t carry a death sentence under international law, and indicate authorities’ “use of the death penalty as a means of pressure and, more broadly, as a repressive lever to manage the country’s social problems.”

The report also identifies what it calls an “insidious link” between the rise in executions and the nationwide “Woman, Life, Freedom” protests in the wake of Amini’s death, arguing authorities are attempting to instill fear in young protesters and silence government critics.

Ethnic minorities were disproportionately targeted for execution, with the report finding Baluch prisoners accounted for 30% of all executions last year, despite representing just 2-6% of Iran’s population. At least 130 people were executed in the ethnic provinces of Western Azerbaijan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Sistan and Baluchistan, and Kurdistan in 2022, more than twice as many as in 2021 (62) and 2020 (60).

To help put the above figures into context: Iran has the highest execution rate of any country relative to its population. A new report from Amnesty International places Iran’s total executions at 576 in 2022 (six fewer than the IHR/ECPM report at discussion), representing 65% of the global total in 2022 (883 executions).

Why it matters:

Ending the Islamic Republic’s campaign of mass execution will take a global effort, and the report calls on the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime to set abolition of the death penalty as a precondition for future cooperation with Iran on combating drug trafficking.

Amnesty International is calling on governments to denounce the ongoing executions through public statements and political actions. The organization is also calling on national governments to “exercise universal jurisdiction over all Iranian officials against whom there is sufficient admissible evidence of criminal responsibility for torture and other crimes under international law.”

One concrete step Western nations can take is designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the regime’s paramilitary group and primary weapon against citizens’ right to life, as a terrorist organization, like the Trump administration did in April 2019.

E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says such a designation isn’t possible until a European court makes a relevant ruling, but legal experts say he’s wrong, arguing the E.U. already has more than enough authority and evidence to make the designation.

It remains to be seen how Western nations will respond to the rise in executions in Iran, if they respond at all.

As my friend, criminal defense attorney, and Iranian human rights activist Elica Le Bon says, groups have been warning about the rise in executions for some time, and the warnings have been met largely with silence.

“Is it just not as sexy to talk about real news as it is fake news? Because the real news is that Iranians are being killed every six hours. Maybe the age-old adage is true: Middle Easterners were just born to be killed.”

Follow Elica on Instagram. Sign a petition to stop the execution of Iranian protesters.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up bills he signed this week during a ceremony in Lighthouse Point, Florida.


DeSantis Signed a Slew of Bills Appeasing His Far-Right Base

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a busy week, signing a slew of bills targeting transgender people, diversity programs at colleges, and laws helping police investigate crimes involving guns, handing the far-right segment of his base everything they could want before they choose Trump over him in 2024 anyways.

  • Last Friday, DeSantis, who also tried out a new laugh last week, signed a bill into law that prevents credit card companies from tracking gun and ammunition sales, stopping companies from flagging suspicious purchases and making it harder on law enforcement to proactively respond to threats. This despite his state suffering the second-deadliest mass shooting in American history in 2016.

  • He followed that up this week by signing four bills banning gender affirming care for minors, targeting drag shows, limiting which bathrooms transgender people can use, and restricting discussions of preferred pronouns. He signed those bills two days after defunding diversity programs at Florida public colleges.


Stock photo of teenagers looking at their phones while standing in a line.


The American Psychological Association Issued Its First Health Advisory on Teen Social Media Use

The American Psychological Association issued its first recommendations for teenagers’ use of social media, responding to recent calls from U.S. officials and policymakers sounding the alarm about the technology’s impact on youth mental health.

  • The 10 recommendations summarize recent scientific research and advise various actions, like monitoring teens’ social media feeds and instituting media literacy training, with a heavy emphasis placed on parental oversight.

  • Some experts describe the emphasis placed on parents as a “burden,” saying the advisory may expect too much of them and implementing the guidance will require cooperation from tech companies and possibly regulators.

  • Bonus Bite: We wrote about this issue and the need to rethink our relationship with social media last month.


Stock photo of a person examining psilocybin in a research/scientific setting.


America’s First Shroom Therapy Center Took a Big Step Toward Opening

The Oregon Health Authority granted its first psilocybin service center license to EPIC Healing Eugene earlier this month, paving the way for the center to offer psilocybin products made by licensed manufacturers and therapy sessions with licensed facilitators. Psilocybin is the primary psychoactive compound found in “magic mushrooms.”


Climate Change and El Niño Will Bring Record Temperatures Over the Next Five Years

A new report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found global temperatures are likely to reach record levels in the next five years, fueled by the combination of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses and an upcoming El Niño causing extreme temperatures globally.

  • The report found there’s a 98% chance that one of the next five years will be the hottest on record, and a 66% chance that the annual temperature for at least one of those years will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the level specified in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

  • While breaching 1.5 degrees is a big deal, the WMO believes we’ll only temporarily eclipse that level, meaning we won’t miss the Paris goal, which refers to long-term warming over several years.


A High Minimum Wage Actually Creates Jobs

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley analyzed 47 large U.S. counties that had a $15 minimum wage by the first quarter of 2021, finding counties with a high minimum wage successfully increase hourly pay for the bottom 10% of earners without reducing wages for median earners or overall employment rates, contradicting claims that a high minimum wage is bad for small businesses.

  • “Our study belies claims that higher minimum wages harm small businesses by demonstrating that minimum wages raise pay for low-wage workers in small businesses without leading to job loss,” said co-author Michael Reich.

  • The study examines the wage and employment conditions of labor markets under what economists call a “monopsony,” which occurs when there are only a few employers in a given market, reducing the incentive to offer competitive wages since workers have few other options.


Religion: Less Cool than Ever

A new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found the proportion of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated rose to 27% in 2022, up from 19% in 2010 (when the organization began taking the measure) and the highest level in PRRI data dating back to 2006.

  • At the same time, just 16% of U.S. adults say religion is the most important thing in their life, down from 20% in 2013, and current church attendance (those who attend at least once a week) is now lower than reported in 2019, before the COVID pandemic, falling from 19% to 16% over the period.

  • The survey also found 24% of Americans say they previously followed a different religious tradition than the one they do now, up from 16% in 2021.


  • 63% - The percentage of U.S. adults who support work requirements for Medicaid and SNAP (the food-stamp program) benefits, including 80% of Republicans and 49% of Democrats, according to a new survey by Axios-Ipsos. Such work requirements are at the center of the debt ceiling negotiations between the White House and House Republicans.

  • $17.05 trillion - The U.S. total household debt in the first quarter of 2023, up $148 billion (0.9%) from the fourth quarter of last year, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The report found Americans hold a total of $986 billion in credit card debt, holding steady from the end of the previous quarter.


Long Video. Learn how the iconic LVMH became a $500 billion luxury behemoth. (20 min)

Short Video. Why is U.S. debt the center of the economy? (6 min)

Fun Video. Check out the first complete digital scan of the Titanic and see the shipwreck in unprecedented detail. (10 min)

Good Read. Some South Korean women are refusing to date, marry, or have kids. (1,271 words; 6 min)

Neat List. Forbes released its annual list of the year’s highest-paid athletes.


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Written by Ryan Wittler