Pope Francis has denounced the use of the death penalty in Iran during nationwide protests convulsing that country, and demanded “greater respect for the dignity of women”.
Francis made the comments in an annual speech to ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, a foreign policy address outlining the areas of greatest concern for the Holy See.
In his remarks, Francis linked the Vatican’s opposition to abortion to its opposition to the death penalty, saying both are a violation of the fundamental right to life.
Francis has changed church teaching on the death penalty, ruling it is “inadmissible” in all circumstances.
He said: “The right to life is also threatened in those places where the death penalty continues to be imposed, as is the case in these days in Iran, following the recent demonstrations demanding greater respect for the dignity of women.
“The death penalty cannot be employed for a purported state justice, since it does not constitute a deterrent nor render justice to victims, but only fuels the thirst for vengeance.”
His comments marked his first public remarks about the protests that erupted in Iran in mid-September over the death of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old woman died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Women have played a leading role in the protests, with many publicly removing the compulsory Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab.
At least four people have been executed since the demonstrations began, following internationally criticised, rapid, closed-door trials.
Francis has been careful not to criticise Iran’s government, given his attempts to foster dialogue with the Muslim world.
The Pope has forged a strong relationship with the imam of the Al-Azhar in Cairo, the seat of Sunni learning.
But his attempts to forge dialogue with the Shia world have been more circumspect, though he held a landmark meeting in 2021 with the top Shia cleric in Iraq, the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
There was no immediate reaction to Francis’s remarks, though Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran on Monday called for a “stern” reaction to the ongoing demonstrations. He said those who set fire to public places committed “treason with no doubt” — a crime that carries the death penalty in the Islamic Republic.
He also repeated an allegation that foreign powers fomented the unrest, without providing evidence to support the claim.
The remarks by Mr Khamenei could embolden authorities to continue the harsh punishment of detainees.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, asked for secretary-general Antonio Guterres’ reaction to the death sentences and executions in Iran, told reporters on Monday: “We cannot condemn enough the use of the death penalty.”
“Every time the secretary-general has spoken to an Iranian official, he has expressed his concern about the overall situation regarding the demonstrations that we have seen, among others,” Mr Dujarric said.
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe