Anti-government protests have continued raging in Iran since they started in mid-September, following the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for alleged non-compliance with the country's strict Islamic dress code.
The protests have at times gotten violent, with buildings across various cities burned down, and also with live fire used by security services to quell the unrest. Last week hardliners in parliament demanded that authorities take a harsher stance in order to finally halt the so-called "anti-hijab" demonstrations.
A majority of the members of Iran’s parliament last week formally requested that the judiciary "deal decisively with the perpetrators of these crimes [the protests] and with all those who assisted in the crimes and provoked rioters."
This as the death toll has grown into the hundreds - though the government says the police and security services side has suffered scores of casualties. The BBC reports that "At least 326 protesters, including 43 children and 25 women, have been killed in a violent crackdown by security forces, according to Iran Human Rights."
But it seems the judiciary has taken the criticism from parliament to heart, as it has handed down its first execution sentence for alleged protest-related crimes. According to Al Jazeera:
The Iranian judiciary said late on Sunday that an unnamed individual has been sentenced to execution for “setting fire to a government center, disturbing public order and collusion for committing crimes against national security” in addition to “moharebeh” (waging war against God) and “corruption on Earth”.
Five more unnamed people, who authorities described as “rioters” – a word the government uses to describe the ongoing protests and those participating in them – were handed between five and 10 years in prison on national security-related charges.
More such extreme penalties are expected, given that Tehran officials have long accused the protest movement of being fueled by Iran's enemies such as Israeli and US intelligence, hence the charge of "collusion for committing crimes against national security."
President Biden and the White House have spurred on the protests, saying that the US stands on the "side of the Iranian people".
Early this month at a Democratic campaign event in California, Biden said, "Don’t worry, we’re gonna free Iran. They’re gonna free themselves pretty soon." Iranian officials have meanwhile taken these and similar statements as evidence of an externally driven regime change operation.
Following news of an Iranian court issuing a death sentence for a demonstrator, the White House condemned the disturbing development, with Jake Sullivan stating from the G20 in Bali, "We are deeply concerned about reports from Iran of mass arrests, sham trials, and now a death sentence for protesters voicing legitimate demands against a government that systematically denies basic dignity and freedom to its people."