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What is Moharebeh, the sharia law Iran is invoking to execute protesters?

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalJan 10, 2023 | 17:04

What is Moharebeh, the sharia law Iran is invoking to execute protesters?

Iran government has executed 4 people so far, over the nationwide protests. Photo: Getty

Just two days after Iran executed two individuals, Seyed Mohammad Hosseini and Mohammad Mehdi Karimi in connection with the nationwide protests, it has sentenced three more people to death under the Moharebeh charge which means 'waging war on God'.

According to Iran's Mizan news agency, the three individuals, Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi and Saeid Yaghoubi have been convicted of allegedly killing members of the Basij militia during the anti-government protests in the central city of Isfahan.

The Middle Eastern country has been on an execution spree in the past few months, especially after the country was rocked by protests since September 2022. The custodial death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on September 16 led to massive protests by the Iranian people against the Khameini regime.

The executions of anti-government protesters: Till now, Iran has executed four people in connection with the anti-government protests. The four people are

  • Mohsen Shekari, executed on December 8, 2022,
  • Majidreza Rahnavard, executed on December 12, and
  • Syed Mohammad Hosseini and Mohammad Mehdi Karimi, executed on January 7, 2023.

Under all the four executions, the Iranian courts have invoked the shariah law Moharebeh, which means waging war against God.

In 2016, 44 people in Iran were executed on this charge. Most of them were political rebels and were accused of "spreading corruption on earth".

  • When the international forums questioned the country on this bizarre law that it uses to execute people, the authorities defended it by saying that it is a law under Islamic Sharia, and it is against people who are accused of terrorism.

What is the Moharebeh law? Moharebeh is a Farsi word, which itself means "enmity against God". Hence, a Moharebeh crime is an offence against God, punishable by death. 

  • According to Iran's Islamic Penal Code 279, Moharebeh is defined as drawing a weapon on the life, property, or chastity of the people or to cause terror as it creates the atmosphere of insecurity.  
  • And further, as per Article 281, "robbers, thieves or smugglers who resort to weapons and disrupt public security or the security of the roads shall be considered as mohareb".
  • A person accused or convicted of this crime is called mohareb or "belligerent against God".

To punish a mohareb, Article 282 of the Islamic Penal Code in Iran empowers a judge to hand over one of the specified punishments at his own discretion:

  • Death by hanging,
  • crucifixion,
  • amputation of the right hand and left foot,
  • or banishment.

What is the Shariah explanation of the law: The term Moharebeh entered Iran's legal textbook after the 1979 revolution which overthrew the regime of the secular Shah of Iran and installed Ayatollah Khomeini as its Supreme Leader.

The scriptural basis of this law comes from the Koranic verse, Surah al Ma'edah, verse number 33-44, which means

  • "the punishment of those who wage war against Allah and his prophet and strive to spread disorder in the land are to execute them in an exemplary way or to crucify them or to amputate their hands and feet from opposite sides or to banish them from the land. Such shall be their degradation in this world and a mighty chastisement lies in store for them in the World to come except for those who repent before you have overpowered them. Know well that Allah is All-Forgiving, All Compassionate."
The scriptual basis of Iran's Moharebeh law under which it executes under trials. Photo: Islamic Studies

In most cases, the ones accused of Moharebeh are sentenced to death; however, women are exempted from this punishment. Instead, the women are given long prison sentences, or the appeals of convicts are converted into life imprisonment from execution by the courts.

Government cracks down on protesters: The Ayatollah Ali Khameini government has cracked down hard on the Iranian protesters. Only last year, according to a Human Rights group report, Iran executed 504 people, which was one of the highest executions in the world.

According to a report by Amnesty International, 26 protesters are at the risk of execution. Of the 26, at least 11 have been sentenced to death and 15 are charged with capital offences and undergoing trials.

Iranian authorities have denied the protests as a conspiracy of the West, mainly Israel and US, and have said that these foreign powers are behind the chaos in the country. The authorities have also denied any role in the death of Mahsa Amini and the controversial morality police has also not been disbanded.

In the coming weeks, more people could face execution.

Last updated: January 10, 2023 | 17:04
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