Iran delivered a chilling message of intent to the country's dissident movement today when it hanged two men accused of being Mohareb (enemies of God) by participating in protests following last year's disputed presidential election and sentenced to death nine more.
The predawn executions of Arash Rahmanipour and Mohammed Reza Alizamani were the first since tens of thousands of ordinary Iranians poured onto the streets to challenge the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president.
Grappling with the country's greatest political crisis since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran's hardliners further indicated their unwillingness to brook dissent after the regime announced that death sentences had been passed on nine other government critics.
Last August a mass show trial of reformists accused of trying to orchestrate a revolution was staged in a Tehran courtroom.
Among the senior figures paraded on state television were the two hanged men, convicted, prosecutors said yesterday, for being "enemies of God".
Abbas Dolatabadi, Tehran's prosecutor general, told state television. "During their trials they confessed to plan to topple the Islamic Republic of Iran.
According to former prisoners and human rights activists, confessions are regularly extracted, especially during politically-tinged trials, through torture and sleep deprivation.
According to his lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Rahmanipour was detained two months before June's election protests and confessed only after his torturers threatened to harm his family if he held out.
Like many other people, Mrs Sotoudeh was convinced that the execution of the two men was primarily intended to deter further street action by the opposition.
"An execution with this speed and rush has only one explanation," she said. "The government is trying to prevent the expansion of the current (opposition) movement through the spread of fear and intimidation."
British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said I am "appalled" by the reported hanging of two men in Iran convicted of being Mohareb (enemies of God). He added, "The trials and now these subsequent executions undermine Iran's claimed commitment to justice, human rights and democratic values."
The White House also "strongly" condemned the executions and said this act marked a new low in Tehran's "ruthless crackdown" on peaceful dissent. Deputy White House spokesman Bill Burton added, "Murdering political prisoners who are exercising their universal rights will not bring the respect and legitimacy the Islamic Republic seeks.”
So far, the tactic does not appear to be working. Messages circulated on the internet have called for fresh rallies on Feb 11, when Iran marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution – one of the most emotive dates in the state's calendar.
It is unclear whether the Iranian regime will seek to reinforce its message of intolerance for dissent before then by carrying out further executions. Yesterday's announcement that there nine other dissidents bound for the gallows came as a surprise and there were conflicting accounts as to when they may have been sentenced.
Iran's leaders are increasingly aware of the fragility of their power base, observers say, a recognition that was reinforced by violent crackdown of protests on the Shia holy day of Ashura in late December in which at least eight demonstrators died.
In what appeared to be a sign of desperation, Iranian officials this week claimed the Ashura protests had been orchestrated by two German intelligence officers identified as "Yogi" and "Ingo".
Planning legislation to reduce subsidies for the poor, Iran's leaders are more nervous about further protests than ever, analysts say.
Despite the executions, the mass population who want change sense an opportunity to cause further damage to this illegitimate government.