Spike in Iran executions seen politically motivated

BEIRUT | Within the small community of minority Arabs where he lived in southwest Iran, Hashem Shaabani was known as a teacher, an advocate for civil rights and a poet. But to the Islamic Republic he was seen as a threat.

Shaabani, 32, was arrested in February 2011 and accused of belonging to an armed separatist group. His family had minimal contact with him after his arrest, and in late January this year they received shocking news: Shaabani had been executed.

“It made me question why we live in a society where something like this can happen,” said a friend who asked not to be identified for personal security reasons. “It also made me think that we have a long road ahead before we can reach democracy and freedom.”

Since president Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate in Iran, took office last August, there has been a surge in executions: at least 537 people have been executed in the past eight months, nearly 200 of them since the beginning of this year, according to figures compiled by the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. That compares with a total for 2013 of 624, according to data gathered by the United Nations.

Some human rights activists and others fear that those who oppose Rouhani and his negotiations with Western powers over the country’s nuclear program are pushing the executions to weaken him.

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