On October 10, 2010, Mission Free Iran organized an event to condemn executions worldwide, in recognition of World Day against the Death Penalty. We gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington D.C. to demand an end to execution: from Sakineh Ashtiani to Teresa Lewis, execution is murder by the state and is indefensible in a world that believes that no one has the right take the life of another human being.Maria Rohaly welcomed everyone in attendance, then opened with a statement (full text) on the state of the death penalty abolition movement in the United States. The fact that only anti-death penalty activists associated with the Iranian struggle against execution were in attendance, and ours was the only World Day against the Death Penalty protest event in Washington DC, is telling on that count: the American abolition movement is weak. Although there has been a movement for over 150 years to abolish the death penalty, the state of Virginia was still able to execute a woman – Teresa Lewis – who was not fully mentally competent, and call that justice. She pointed out the ways that the campaign to save Sakineh Ashtiani could provide a road map for American death penalty abolitionists in the struggle to abolish the death penalty in the United States. Next, Shirin Nariman condemned execution as a barbaric act and spoke about the fact that the Islamic Republic executed more people than any other government last year with the exception of China. She also pointed out that the Islamic Republic continues to execute juveniles as well as those accused of homosexuality. She mentioned the names of several known political prisoners on death row, including Jafar Kazemi, Ali Saremi, Ali Hoj Aghaei, Abdolreza Ghanbari, Ahmad & Mohsen Daneshpour (father and son) Javad Lari and Farah Vazehan. She also read an excerpt from a moving statement by Behrouz Javid Tehrani, which he wrote for the occasion of World Day against the Death Penalty. Her full statement is downloadable as a pdf. Saeed Salehinia gave the next statement. He said that as a neuropsychiatrist who is in constant exposure to the prison population and individuals who are condemned to death, he observed that poverty, racism and mental illness (including mental disability) are the major causes of crimes, and the death penalty is not the answer to the issue of crime. He condemned the death penalty as a designed murder by state and noted that, based on history, states use the death penalty as method of psychological warfare to oppress societies. He also noted that there is no longitudinal study supporting the hypothesis that the death penalty improves the crime rate. He argued that crime should be treated, and that psychosocial interventions, along with radical changes in social structure, including the elimination of poverty by eliminating its roots (capitalism) is the answer to crime. He closed by stating that the death penalty is inhumane, and that killing individuals to prevent killing is a logical paradox. The philosophy of “eye for eye” will not save society – that it is just ancient and outdated religious law. The resolution for the World Day against the Death Penalty was also read aloud to passing schoolchildren.
The response to the action generally ranged from positive to indifferent. There was one confrontation with a group of leather-motorcycle-jacket wearing American males of approximately 55 years of age who appeared to be military veterans. They identified themselves as Christians and one of the group vociferously advocated a return to public executions, citing the “eye for an eye” philosophy in the Bible. He also demanded that the Iranian participants in our demonstration “go back to their own country.” We offered the men an opportunity to engage in a discussion on the death penalty in a civilized fashion, but they declined, preferring to shout angrily at us as they passed our group twice.