Shahid Alikhani Square is an insignificant part of the historical Iranian city of Isfahan. Its only claim to prominence is the grand entrance to one of the city’s main metro stations.
But it has now become a pilgrimage site for supporters of prominent Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani who fear the young man could be executed in the square, where an execution platform has been set up, a witness close in Nasr-Azadani the Iran told CNN.
Terrified Iranian families believe that while the Western world is preoccupied with Christmas celebrations, a wave of executions in the country is imminent in the wake of recent protests that have swept the country following the death in September of Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by Iran’s notorious moral. … the police for being accused of improperly wearing the hijab.
In partnership with the activist group 1500Tasvir, CNN has verified documents, videos, witnesses and statements from inside the country that suggest at least 43 people, including Nasr-Azadani, could face imminent execution.
Authorities have already executed at least two people in connection with protests in Iran last month, one of whom was publicly hanged.
Witness testimony and official documents, reviewed by CNN and 1500Tasvir, provide evidence suggesting a rushed judicial process in Iran; charges that could carry the death penalty, often handed down in a single session.
Nasr-Azadani is accused of taking part in the killing of three security officers, including two volunteer members of the Basij militia, during protests in Isfahan on November 16, Iranian state media IRNA reported last week.
According to state media, the city’s chief judge, Asadullah Jafari, said Nasr-Azadani had been charged with Baghi, or rioting against the authorities. Under Iran’s penal code, the sentence carries the death penalty.
Since then, a witness to his arrest said they expected Nasr-Azadani to be released, but nevertheless visited Shahid Alikhani Square daily to see if the authorities would show up with the footballer and execute him on the scaffold . “From the day he was arrested, the authorities told us he would be released by the end of the week,” the witness told CNN.
Then the information dried up. Weeks later, the witness, who is close to Nasr-Azadani, says authorities told them the 26-year-old could be hanged in Shahid Alikhani Square.
“The idea that they could execute him any day is very difficult for us … and the daily news we continue to hear is troubling.”
Nasr-Azadani’s family initially did not know the reason for his arrest, the witness told CNN, and officials did not share information about his condition. Those close to him were also warned to “keep quiet” about his case if they wanted to see him released early, the witness told CNN.
The court said last week that it obtained “sufficient video and documentation to prove this [Nasr-Azadani] he is part of an armed group” and that the footballer had confessed to his crimes, state media IRNA reported.
Previous investigations by CNN have found that prisoners have been subjected to torture and sexual assault. Human rights groups say torture-tainted “confessions” have been used against defendants in mock trials.
However, Iranian officials have defended the trials. In recent days, an Iranian lawmaker said he believes those involved in the current unrest should be executed within 5 to 10 days of their arrest. CNN did not receive an official response from Iranian officials to its request for comment.
Another man, Majid Kazemi, was also accused of taking part in the killing of three security forces in Isfahan, the document obtained by CNN and 1500Tasvir shows. Kazemi told others that he was forced to confess to his involvement in criminal acts during his interrogation.
“He didn’t confess to doing any of the things he was accused of, and that’s why they beat him severely,” a source close to Kazemi told CNN.
A prisoner released from the facility where Majid is being held told the source that his arm, leg and nose had been broken.
Majid’s court hearing will take place during the holiday season, the source told CNN.
“This will coincide with a time when the international community is observing these holy days, and the regime of the Islamic Republic will take advantage of being away from the watchful eye of the world.
“I really fear they will execute Majid.”
In a recording from inside a Tehran prison, inmate Sahand Noor Mahammadzade talks about how he was forced to confess.
“The judge who was there told me to say I do not protest (object) and gave me three pages which I signed, while I was not even allowed to read any of them.
“The second time they brought me in for questioning, my charges had completely changed. That second charge he imposed on me contained the term “Moharabe”.
“They told me to go into the prosecutor’s office and when I went in he said, ‘It’s obvious from his face. Execute this one!'”
In a document hastily photographed from Isfahan Regional Court obtained and verified by 1500Tasvir and CNN, it is revealed that at least 10 people in Isfahan have also been charged with Moharabe (a war against God), spreading corruption on Earth and others charges, all of which carries the death penalty.
The charge, introduced after the 1979 revolution, is regularly levied against people accused of committing acts against the government.
Several other testimonies from witnesses and official documents submitted by families, and jointly authenticated by CNN and 1500Tasvir, paint a picture showing how the Iranian regime is rushing the judicial process.
Families and activists say only court-appointed lawyers can represent defendants who are also denied the right to appeal.
And if indicted, Iran’s penal code states they could get the death sentence in one sitting, although it is not carried out immediately and most sentences are appealed.
Soheil Jahangiri is one of the Iranians who has received this sentence. Family members told CNN they had not heard from him for more than a month. They say officials did not allow Jahangiri an independent lawyer.
Judicial officials have alluded to two charges: Baghi and Moharabe. Soheil could face any of these charges that carry the death penalty,” a family member said.
“We are very afraid that, with the start of the Christmas holidays and the lessening of political pressure on the government, the executions will start again, and I believe that the lives of Soheil and the lives of many political prisoners are in danger.
“We do not want to see our children executed while the media is silent,” they added.
CNN has verified that dozens of others, some of them teenagers, face similar charges in connection with the protests and are at risk of execution.
At the Khuzestan Regional Court, west of Isfahan, CNN has confirmed, along with 1500Tasvir, through court documents that 23 people have been charged with crimes punishable by death.
In Karaj, near Tehran, CNN and 1500 Tasvir have confirmed that five more Iranians face execution. Among them is Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a 21-year-old Iranian-Kurdish karate champion whose parents have also made their plea public.
“Please lift the execution order on my son’s file,” his father says in a video shared on social media.
In messages shared with CNN, his family says Karami was not only sentenced to death, but was also tortured in prison.
In another message shared with CNN, they said that despite his alleged abuse, Karami was in good spirits but “physically damaged” after suffering torture.
For those awaiting execution, the wait behind bars can be excruciating. This week, Iranian Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin, 27, attempted suicide while in custody.
In his latest music video, Yasin rapped about inequality and oppression in Iran, singing “they closed my throat violently. They banned beauty. They turned me like an animal. I’m not satisfied with the silence” .
Just two days ago, Yasin tried to take his own life, after weeks of enduring harsh prison conditions in northern Iran, prison sources told CNN.
CNN has verified that at least 43 detainees face execution. Statements from both Iranian officials and Iranian media reviewed by CNN and 1500Tasvir mention the names of the accused and show that the real number is possibly as high as 100. Many of the families, however, were too afraid to speak to us directly. confirm the names mentioned in the media.
As the year draws to a bitter end, for many Iranians their desperate pleas persist.
In a video made public and shared with CNN, the mother of brothers Farzad and Farhad Tahazade, 23 and 24, sent this message to the world:
“Please hear my children’s cries for help. My children are young and have children waiting for their release. Please save them. For God’s sake, save my children.”
In Iran, a woman puts herself in great danger by speaking out against the authorities on behalf of her children. But it’s a risk many parents feel they have no choice but to take.