BERLIN, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Germans and exiled Iranians gathered in front of the German Foreign Ministry Thursday to demand that Berlin take a stance against a wave of executions in Iran.
Around 60 people, sporting banners and chanting "no more silence," Thursday braved the Berlin cold to assemble outside the foreign ministry. They gathered after news surfaced that two Iranians, who were arrested last summer amid protests following Iran's disputed presidential election, were hanged Monday.
"We want German Foreign Minister (Guido Westerwelle) to break his silence and condemn the execution of political prisoners in Iran," Masoud Azadih, an Iranian national living in Berlin, told United Press International.
Iranian authorities have executed at least 71 prisoners since the beginning of this year, Amnesty International said Monday, adding that thousands more are on death row. Opponents of the regime claim Tehran cracks down on activists as it fears Tunisia-style unrest in its streets.
Azadih, is an activist with the NCRI, the organizer of the Berlin protest and a European-based exiled Iranian opposition group linked to the outlawed People's Mujahedin of Iran, which aims to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Critics of the PMOI, listed as a terrorist organization by Iran and the United States, denounce it as a sect and point to its paramilitary campaigns of the past. Its supporters say the group wants a free, democratic Iran and note that the European Union removed the PMOI from its terror list in 2009. The United States disarmed the PMOI, which has around 3,500 members living in Iraq, in 2003.
The prisoners hanged Monday, Jafar Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Hajaghaei, had been convicted of moharebeh (enmity against God), anti-regime propaganda and having contacts with the PMOI, Amnesty International reports. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year urged Iranian authorities to release the activists, despite the PMOI terrorist label.
Whatever the PMOI's motives, the Iranian regime's crackdown on its opponents inside the country has sparked condemnations from Western officials and human rights groups.
"The noose has tightened, in some cases literally, around the necks of activists in Iran," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement accompanying the group's new report on human rights abuses, which was released this week. "The government's crackdown has gone beyond silencing post-election demonstrators and is now a broad-based campaign to neutralize Iran's vibrant civil society and consolidate power."
Britain's Alistair Burt, a conservative MP and a high-ranking diplomat in Britain's Foreign Office, condemned the executions and called on Iran to "to cease using the death penalty."
The protesters in Berlin said they would like to see Germany follow Britain's example and condemn Iran's hard-line course.
"The German government is acting when it comes to executions in the United States but is silent when political prisoners are executed in Iran. That's a scandal," said Christian Zimmermann, a Berlin human rights activist, who was at Thursday's protest. "The German foreign minister believes in appeasement and silent diplomacy but the Iranian regime has made it clear that it's not interested in that at all."