(CNSNews.com) – Thousands of Iranians and others demonstrated in Paris Thursday to protest a visit by Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, angered by the warm reception given to the leader of a regime that suppresses dissent and carries out more executions than any country other than China.
Graphically highlighting the execution issue, a topless protestor from the controversial women’s activist group Femen dangled by rope from a bridge in a mock hanging, with an Iranian flag painted on her torso.
“Welcome Rouhani, executioner of freedom,” read a giant banner draped on the bridge.
The Femen protest was particularly provocative given the nature of the Islamic regime in Tehran; in Rome early this week a leading museum concealed nude classical statues to avoid offending the Iranian visitor.
With the lifting of sanctions under the nuclear agreement, the first official visit to France by an Iranian president in 17 years saw the announcing of deals, including the purchase of 118 airliners from Airbus, valued at some $27 billion, and an arrangement for Peugeot to resume manufacturing cars in Iran.
The two-day visit to France followed a trip to Italy, where a series of business contracts worth more than $18 billion were signed.
Rouhani, who succeeded the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013, is often portrayed as a moderate by Iranian standards, but regime opponents argue that behind a “facade of moderation” is a man closely linked to the Islamic Republic’s establishment and its abuses.
“As a top official for 37 years in the religious dictatorship in Iran, Rouhani is implicated in all the atrocities of this regime and as a result should be brought to justice for crimes against humanity,” National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) president Maryam Radjavi told the largest of several protests held in the French capital.
That protest featured a march to the site of Napoleon’s tomb, where Rouhani earlier in the day had reviewed a military honor guard during a welcoming ceremony hosted by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
Exiled Iranians were joined by French politicians and public figures including the son of the late President Francois Mitterrand, human rights activists and others. In speeches, participants urged French officials to rebuke Rouhani for human rights abuses, support for Syria’s Assad regime, and sponsoring of terrorism and instability in the region.
Slogans chanted by protestors included “Rouhani is a criminal and enemy of Iranians” and “Shame on these deals, contracts, and appeasement.”
Many in the crowd carried placards featuring photos of Iranians imprisoned or executed by the regime.
The NCRI, which along with the allied Mujaheddin-e Khalq is reviled by Tehran as a terrorist group, said demonstrators also voiced support for an opposition political platform calling for the establishment of a republic based on respect for human rights, separation of religion and state, gender equality, and peaceful co-existence.
“Thousands of Iranians came out today to soundly expose Rouhani’s façade,” NCRI foreign affairs committee member Shahin Gobadi said later.
“Their message was that Rouhani is only a functionary of the religious fascism that is loathed by the Iranian people. His record includes more than 2,000 executions, full-fledged support for Bashar Assad’s massacre of the Syrian people and support for international terrorism. This clearly shows his true colors.”
Report: Iran a world leader in executing juvenile offenders
United Nations rights experts say Iran executes more people to death per capita than any other country – and campaigners note that the rate has gone up since the 2013 election of Rouhani, with more than 2,000 people put to death during his tenure.
Of particular concern to many is the sentencing to death of offenders for crimes committed while minors. Iran’s laws allow the death penalty for girls as young as nine and boys as young as 15, according to Amnesty International.
In a new report released this week it said Iran over the past ten years has put to death at least 73 people convicted of offenses committed as juveniles, and that at least 160 prisoners in that category are currently on death row.
The report also said many young Iranians sentenced to death have been convicted in unfair trials.
“The report paints a deeply distressing picture of juvenile offenders languishing on death row, robbed of valuable years of their lives – often after being sentenced to death following unfair trials, including those based on forced confessions extracted through torture and other ill-treatment,” said Said Boumedouha, deputy director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa program.