Iran executes two ‘Quran burners’ for blasphemy

The men were said to have insulted Islam and its prophets and run organised efforts to promote atheism.

Iran flag
The official news outlet of Iran's judiciary says two men were hanged early on May 8, 2023, for blasphemy [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]

Tehran, Iran – Two “Quran burners” have been executed in Iran for blasphemy convictions that included organising anti-religious activities, the judiciary says.

The two men, identified as Yousef Mehrdad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare, were hanged early on Monday, the official news outlet of the judiciary reported.

It said the case began three years ago when the public reported an unnamed group publishing “obscene” content, leading the judiciary to summon several people, one of whom was Mehrdad.

Mehrdad was then found to be the administrator and main organiser of 15 online groups and channels that promoted content that was against Islam and its prophets and propagated atheism, according to the judiciary.

It said Mehrad was found to be collaborating with Fazeli Zare, who was also alleged to operate 20 anti-religion online groups.

It said their “insults” were so severe that none of them was cited explicitly in the Supreme Court confirmation of the ruling that paved the way for the men’s executions.

Mehrdad’s phone also contained a video in which the Quran was burned, which was publicly shared, the judiciary said.

Last year, a group of United Nations human rights experts said they were concerned about criminalisation of blasphemy in Iran.

“We call on the Iranian authorities to de-criminalise blasphemy and take meaningful steps to ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of opinion and expression without discrimination,” they said.

The two hangings on Monday were the latest in a series of executions in the past two weeks that encompass a range of offences.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights group said last week that Iran executed 42 people in 10 days, amounting to a rate of one person every six hours.

It said most of the executions, which have not been publicised or commented on by Iranian authorities, have been ethnic Baluchis convicted of drug charges.

Iran executes more people annually than any other country in the world except China, according to Amnesty International.

The latest high-profile execution in Iran came on Saturday when Iranian-Swedish dual national Habib Chaab was hanged for leading an Arab separatist group that was behind a 2018 “terrorist” attack on a military parade that killed 25 people.

The government of Sweden and the European Union condemned Tehran for the execution and said Iran should abandon the death penalty.

The Iranian foreign ministry reacted by criticising European governments for “supporting terrorists” instead of fighting them.

Another high-profile execution in Iran was carried out in January when former defence ministry official Alireza Akbari was hanged after being convicted of being a spy for the British intelligence service for nearly two decades. He also had UK citizenship.

A third dual national who could also be executed is Jamshid Sharmahd, an Iranian-German citizen whose death sentence for leading a pro-monarchist group accused of organising “terrorist” operations on Iranian soil was upheld by the Supreme Court in late April.

Source: Al Jazeera