Iran stays execution of anti-government protesters on death row

Iran’s supreme court has agreed to suspend the executions of three men on death row for their participation in anti-government protests in November, whose sentences sparked an online outcry last week.

Lawyers for the men – Saeed Tamjidi, 26, Mohammad Rajabi, 28, and Amirhossein Moradi, 26 – said in a statement on Sunday the country’s supreme court had agreed to examine the men’s application for a retrial.

The three were convicted earlier this year of crimes including sabotage, armed robbery and illegally fleeing the country in connection to their involvement in one of the largest outbreaks of public dissent in the history of the Islamic republic last year.

A sudden increase in gasoline prices last November triggered days of protests and a forceful government response in which at least 300 people were killed, according to rights groups, and more than 7,000 arrested.

The announcement last Tuesday that an appeal against the convictions had been rejected by the supreme court triggered protests on social media including from prominent Iranian bloggers, athletes, actors and political figures, who tweeted images of the men, their names and the Farsi words for “don’t execute”.

The US president, Donald Trump, also tweeted about the men in posts in English and Farsi.

Iranian newspapers the following day carried headlines including “Hold on” and “477”, in reference to an article under Iranian law that allows the chief of the judiciary to overturn verdicts deemed to be “in contravention of sharia law”.

Rajabi and Tamjidi had sought asylum in Turkey after they were initially released, according to activists, but Turkish authorities refused to register or process the asylum claims of the two men and deported them in December.

Rights groups say all three have reported being beaten or tortured in detention, including with electric shocks.

Iran executed about 251 people last year, according to Amnesty International. It has issued a spate of death sentences in recent weeks, including to the opposition journalist Ruhollah Zam, and in recent days has executed two Kurdish men in connection with an armed attack in 2010, a man for repeatedly drinking alcohol and another who was convicted of spying for the CIA.

Meanwhile, there was another explosion at an Iranian power plant on Sunday, the latest in a string of incidents at military, nuclear and industrial sites that have led to speculation the country is being targeted by a covert sabotage campaign.

The blast occurred at a plant in central Isfahan province and there were no casualties, the official IRNA news agency reported. It was caused by the wear and tear of a transformer at the power plant, the managing director of the Isfahan power company told IRNA.

At least one of the incidents – an explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility in Isfahan – is thought to have been the result of a hostile act, but some others could be the result of poor maintenance or training.

Analysts have speculated some of the incidents might be aimed at goading Iran into a military reprisal in the last stretch of Trump’s first term, in anticipation of a new administration that might push to restart diplomacy with the Islamic republic.