Iran has executed two men accused of blasphemy, as a rise in death sentences handed out by the ruling regime continues.
The streak of executions, including members of ethnic minority groups in Iran, comes following months-long protests over the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s morality police.
So far in 2023, at least 203 prisoners have been executed in the country, according to the not-for-profit campaign group Iran Human Rights.
The country has one of the highest execution figures in the world.
The two men – Yousef Mehrad and Sadrollah Fazeli Zare – were accused of being involved in a channel on messaging app Telegram which authorities claimed insulted Islam’s Prophet Mohammed and promoted atheism.
They were also accused of burning the Koran or sharing an image of the act of burning Islam’s holy book on the Telegram channel.
Iranian officials confirmed the men were hanged and died at Arak Prison in central Iran.
Blasphemy can carry the death penalty in Iran – but executions in such cases are usually rare in the country.
It was not immediately clear when Iran carried out its last execution for blasphemy.
Historian Hashem Aghajari was sentenced to the death penalty for blasphemy in Iran in 2002, but the country’s Supreme Court later changed the sentence to “insulting religious values” and issued a three-year prison term.
‘Medieval’ executions are ‘intolerable’
The executions of the two men were criticised by the group Iran Human Rights, which said they exposed the “medieval nature” of Iran’s theocracy.
Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, who leads the Oslo-based group, said in a statement: “The international community must show with its reaction that executions for expressing an opinion is intolerable.
“The refusal of the international community to react decisively is a green light for the Iranian government and all their like-minded people around the world.”
According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the men were arrested in May 2020, accused of being involved in a channel on the Telegram message app called Critique of Superstition and Religion.
Both men faced months of solitary confinement and could not contact their families, the commission said.
In 2022, Iran executed at least 582 people, up from 333 people in 2021, Iran Human Rights added.
Amnesty International’s most recent report on executions put Iran as the world’s second-largest executioner, behind only China, where thousands are believed to be put to death every year.