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Iranian hard-liners propose punishment for cooperation with ‘hostile’ countries

Thousands of Iranian Americans and others march during a Freedom Rally for Iran protesting in solidarity with women-led protests in Iran and for regime change in Iran in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 22, 2022. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have proposed a plan to enact harsher punishments against protesters who they say are cooperating with “hostile” foreign countries.

According to the plan, any interaction with any Western institutions and media, including social media, will be considered cooperation and criminalized under the title of “corruption on earth” — a charge that is punishable by death and often leveled in cases allegedly involving espionage or attempts to overthrow Iran’s government.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly has prompted thousands of Iranians to take to the streets to demand more freedoms and women’s rights in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In recent months and especially amid the latest weeks of protests, Iranian legislators have repeatedly tried to facilitate the suppression of protesters by passing harsher and harsher laws while accusing Western countries of being directly involved in fomenting the unrest, despite giving no evidence to back up their claims.

Last month, 227 lawmakers from the 290-seat, hard-liner-led parliament urged the judiciary to approve the death sentence for some protesters arrested amid the recent wave of demonstrations.

They also proposed banning student protesters — who along with women have formed the backbone of the demonstrations demanding more freedoms — from traveling abroad for 10 years as the Islamic republic struggles to suppress the biggest show of dissent in years.

Several thousand people have been arrested, including many protesters, journalists, lawyers, activists, digital-rights defenders, and others.

The activist HRANA news agency said that as of November 23, at least 445 protesters had been killed during the unrest, including 61 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.

An Iranian general was quoted on November 28 by a website close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as saying that more than 300 people had been killed.

General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the aerospace division of the IRGC, did not provide an exact figure or say where his estimate came from, but he said the 300 killed included what he said were “martyrs,” in an apparent reference to security forces. He also suggested that many of those killed were ordinary Iranians not involved in the protests.

Hajizadeh also reiterated the official claim that the protests have been fomented by Iran’s enemies, including Western countries and Saudi Arabia, without providing evidence.