Pope sentenced to death after protests in Iran

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ROME — Pope Francis broke his silence on the nationwide protests that have rocked Iran on Monday, condemning the country’s use of the death penalty and legitimizing the protests as “demanding greater respect for the dignity of women.”

Francis made the comments in his annual address to the Vatican’s ambassadors, the foreign policy address the pope gives at the start of each year that highlights the Holy See’s most important directions.

In his speech, Francis linked the Vatican’s opposition to abortion to its opposition to the death penalty, saying both were a violation of the fundamental right to life. Francis changed the Church’s teaching on the death penalty, saying it was “inadmissible” in any case.

“The right to life is at risk in places where the death penalty is used, as is the case these days in Iran after recent demonstrations calling for respect for women’s dignity. “, said Francis. “The death penalty cannot be used for state justice because it does not deter victims or bring justice, but only increases the desire for revenge.”

His remarks were his first public comments on the protests that erupted in Iran in mid-September over the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old died after being arrested by Iranian vice police on charges of violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Women played a prominent role in the protests, with many removing the mandatory Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab, in public.

At least four people have been executed since the protests began, following closed-door trials that have drawn swift and international criticism.

Since the protests began, at least 519 people have been killed and more than 19,200 arrested in the months-long protests, according to human rights groups in Iran. It has become one of the biggest challenges for Iran’s Shiite theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Francis was cautious about making the phone call, given the Iranian government’s efforts to foster dialogue with the Muslim world. Francis established a strong relationship with the Imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo, a Sunni institution of learning. But his efforts to engage with the Shiite world have been far more circumspect, though in 2021 he held a historic meeting with Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric.

There was no immediate reaction to Francis’s remarks, although Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for a “stern” response to the ongoing protests in Tehran on Monday. He said those who set fire to public places committed “unquestionable treason”, a crime punishable by death in the Islamic Republic. He also repeated the charge that foreign powers had caused the unrest, without providing any evidence to support the claim.

Khamenei’s words may encourage authorities to continue punishing prisoners harshly.

Francis called the protests in Iran part of a general frustration that women are treated as “second-class citizens” in many parts of the world.

“They are victims of violence and abuse and are deprived of the opportunity to study, work, employ their talents and access health care and even food,” he said. announced. Although Francis has appointed women to many of the top positions in the Vatican, some women see them as second-class citizens in the Catholic Church because they cannot become priests.

Francis also referred to Iran in his speech, deploring the continued threat of nuclear weapons in Russia’s war in Ukraine, as well as the breakdown in talks over Iran’s nuclear program. Francis changed church teaching and declared that not only the use of nuclear weapons, but also their possession is immoral.

He said the stalling of talks with Iran was “of particular concern”.

“I hope that a concrete solution can be found as soon as possible to ensure a secure future,” the pontiff said.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, even as it is now enriching uranium more than ever before to weapons-grade levels, and in recent years since the breakup has severely limited international oversight of its nuclear activities. about his nuclear deal with world powers.

In his speech, Francis highlighted the conflicts, natural disasters and migration crises that have engulfed the planet, as well as threats to democracy, especially America.

In a last-minute amendment to his speech, he added “the events of the last few hours in Brazil,” a reference to the thousands of supporters of ex-President Jair Bolsonaro who stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace, then looted the country’s highest power. places of power.

“In many areas, a sign of the weakening of democracy is the increase in political and social polarization, which does not help to solve the urgent problems of citizens,” he said. “I think of the various countries of the Americas where political crises are rife with tensions and forms of violence that exacerbate social conflict.

In addition to Brazil, he cited Peru and Haiti, saying “there is a constant need to work to overcome partisan ways of thinking and promote the common good.”

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John Gambrell contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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