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Human Rights Groups: Iran Resumes Executing Protesters; Vietnam POWs Reunite To Celebrate 50 Years Since Homecoming; Heat Knock Out Celtics In Game 7, Advance To NBA Finals. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired May 30, 2023 - 05:30   ET



SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN REPORTER: -- and 70 people received the death penalty there last year. And now, activists are telling us this year there could be even more. Among those being sentenced to death by hanging are protesters. Take a look.


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Outside a jail near Tehran families of prisoners gathered to chant "Do not hang them." Their pleas come as Iran resumes the execution of protesters after a months-long hiatus.

The brutal practice restarted this month with the hanging of three young men accused of killing three members of the security forces during anti-government protests in November. The news sparked more demonstrations, but activists and human rights groups say the allegations against the trio are baseless.

Majid Kazemi was forced to watch videos of interrogators torturing his brother, and he was subject to at least 15 mock executions, according to Amnesty International.

In an audio note obtained by the organization, he maintained his innocence. CNN cannot independently verify the clip. "They kept beating me and ordering me to say this weapon is mine," he says. "I told them I would say whatever they wanted, just please leave my family alone."

Before his execution, the family of 36-year-old Saleh Mirhashemi, a karate coach from Isfahan, tried to draw attention to his plight. This picture of his father spread on social media. "My son is innocent," the sign reads -- but to no avail. Activists shared this heartbreaking video they say is Mirhashemi's dad hugging his picture as he lay by his son's grave.

Iran has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

The total number of demonstrators known to have been executed since last year now stands at seven, according to CNN reporting, and more executions are likely imminent.

Over 100 protesters have been sentenced to death or are facing charges punishable by death, says this human rights activist. MAHMOOD AMIRY-MOGHADDAM, IRAN HUMAN RIGHTS NGO DIRECTOR: When authorities fear protests or right after protests the number of executions go up. The aim is to create fear into society to prevent more protests.

ABDELAZIZ (on camera): Do you expect that the number of executions is going to rise even more this year?

AMIRY-MOGHADDAM: It is rising already. The Amnesty International community has got a strong move against these executions. We might be facing a very large number of executions in the coming months.

ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): Rights groups say that Mohammad Ghobadlou, a 22-year-old protester with a mental health issue, could be one of the next victims of Iran's execution machine.

Activists are ringing the alarm. They say yet another Iranian faces death just for daring to speak out.


ABDELAZIZ: Now, activists described these court proceedings that these protesters face as sham trials. Among these seven protesters, they say they went from being accused of committing a crime to being -- to facing death by hanging in a matter of just weeks, Christine. And that's sort of the point here -- to terrifying protesters. To keep people from demonstrating against the government in Iran. But activists tell us it's not working. People are still taking to the streets --


ABDELAZIZ: -- against their government.

ROMANS: All right, Salma. Thank you so much for that. Incredible reporting.

All right, quick hits around the globe right now.

At least 34 NATO peacekeepers are wounded during violent clashes with Serbian protesters in Northern Kosovo on Monday. Serbia's defense minister says protesters were also injured.

Uganda facing condemnation from Western countries and human rights groups after approving an extreme anti-LGBTQ law. It mandates prison and even death for those who commit, quote, "aggravated homosexuality."

Multiple wildfires spanning 25,000 acres in Canada's Nova Scotia province forcing 16,000 people from their homes. Meantime, wildfires in Alberta have been burning for weeks.

Coming up, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kicking off his presidential bid in Iowa today. Also today, disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes -- she reports to prison.



ROMANS: Here is today's fast-forward look ahead.

Trial begins today for the man accused of killing 11 worshippers at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Elizabeth Holmes, the former chief executive of the failed blood- testing startup Theranos, must report to prison in Texas today. She's been sentenced to 11 years for defrauding investors.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis kicking off his presidential campaign tour in Des Moines, Iowa today. He will also visit New Hampshire on Thursday and South Carolina on Friday.

All right, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library celebrating the 50th anniversary of the homecoming of Vietnam POWs. Two of them tell CNN about their experience and just how much they bonded them together for life.

CNN's Nick Watt has more.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Major Mark Smith and Sgt. Ken Wallingford, then and now.

SGT. KEN WALLINGFORD, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: I haven't seen this guy outside of one funeral we went to of one of our buddies in 50 years.

WATT (voice-over): That's how long it's been since they were released from a jungle prison camp -- now back together to celebrate that half- century.

WATT (on camera): Listen, I don't want to keep you from your dinner.

MAJOR MARK SMITH, VIETNAM WAR VETERAN: It's a good thing because I'm hungry.

WALLINGFORD: And then he really gets bad.

WATT (voice-over): Nineteen seventy-three -- they and hundreds of other freed POWs dined with the president at the White House.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Never has the White House been more proud than it is tonight because of the guests we have tonight.

WATT (voice-over): Exactly 50 years later to the day, here at the Richard Nixon Library, the same food -- Neptune salad, beef, strawberry shortcake -- there just aren't as many men left alive to enjoy it. WALLINGFORD: We considered Richard Nixon the guy really responsible for getting us home. And to this day, we love the man.

WATT (voice-over): Every man at this table was held at the same POW camp. There's Smith and Wallingford. In 1972, both were badly injured and captured after the brutal battle of Loc Ninh.

WALLINGFORD: A big explosion went off. I felt like half my head had been blown away. I was an agnostic before I went to Vietnam. (INAUDIBLE) conversions -- you're looking at one.

SMITH: I'm the guy who knew I'd never get captured because that only happened to losers. They came around and hit me in the shin and knocked me down out of the way of an RPG that was aimed at my chest and went off behind me and knocked me out.

WATT (voice-over): They were held in bamboo tiger cages.

WATT (on camera): Explain to me what a tiger cage is.

WALLINGFORD: If you've ever been to the zoo and seen animals in cages, they just put these logs -- 5x6, 5x5 --

SMITH: Into a cage.

WALLINGFORD: -- into a cage with a little door you had to bend down to get in.

WATT (voice-over): Held in those cages because they would not do as they were told.

SMITH: We made no statements. We wrote no letters. We made no broadcasts -- not one.

WATT (voice-over): Fifty years on, these men are grateful --

WALLINGFORD: Well, every day's a great day. I don't care what the weather is like outside.

WATT (voice-over): -- and no regrets.

SMITH: Major retired Mark (Zippo) Smith -- war -- that's what I do.

WATT (on camera): Smith and Wallingford live thousands of miles apart -- Smith in Thailand, Wallingford in Texas. They've done very different things with their lives since Vietnam. But it was really interesting to see their interaction. They've been apart for so long but having gone through such an intense experience together there is an ease -- a familiarity still between them. And that's shown because they laugh a lot together.

Today, we should also remember the 58,220 American servicemen who died in Vietnam and all other victims of war.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


ROMANS: All right, Nick, thanks.

All right, to sports now. The Boston Celtics were trying to become the first NBA to ever come back from an 0-3 deficit last night but the Heat denying them history.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning, Andy.


So Jimmy Butler said after that heartbreaking game six loss that you're going to keep getting the same test until you pass it. And despite losing three in a row, Butler was confident his Heat would still get it done.

And Boston fans -- I mean, they were just ecstatic for a game seven at home. The Celtics, the fourth team ever to go down 0-3 and then force a game seven. The first team to have that game seven at home. But they just didn't show up at all.

Jayson Tatum turned his ankle on the first play of the game. It likely didn't help the Celtics but they just couldn't make a shot. They went nine for 42 from three. Butler, meanwhile, scored 28. Caleb Martin, who has been amazing in this series, chipped in 26.

The game never close in the second half as Miami would win 103-84. The Heat -- the first team to ever go from the play-in tournament to the NBA Finals.


JIMMY BUTLER, MIAMI HEAT FORWARD: I'm just confident. I know the work that we all put into it so I know what we're capable of. But nobody's satisfied. We haven't done anything. We don't play just to win the Eastern Conference, we play to win the whole thing.

Everybody's confidence is so high. We've got to believe that we can do something incredibly special. So we're going to hit the ground running when we get to Denver and I like our chances.


SCHOLES: Yes. The Heat just the second eight-seed to ever make the finals. They now head to Denver for game one against the Nuggets Thursday night.

All right. The Vegas Golden Knights, meanwhile, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final after just dominating the Dallas Stars in game six. William Carrier put them on the board less than four minutes into the game and Vegas would score three unanswered in that first period to go on to win 6-0.

They are now heading to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in their history. They were in it in 2018 against the Capitals. Vegas going to host game one against the Panthers Saturday night. The puck drops at 8:00 Eastern on our sister channel TNT. Neither of those teams have ever hoisted the Stanley Cup.

All right, to baseball we go where Braves pitcher Michael Soroka making his long-awaited return to the Majors after missing nearly three years due to tearing his Achilles twice. He was called up for the minors to start against the A's yesterday. It was 1,030 days since his last big league game in August of 2020.

And the 25-year-old -- he retired the side on 13 pitches. Soroka ended up going six innings, giving up four runs and five hits in the game. They ended up losing 7-2 but awesome to see him back.


And finally, just five months after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, White Sox pitcher Liam Hendriks made an emotional return to the mound in Chicago last night. The 34-year-old closer who announced he was in remission last month entered the game against the Angels in the eighth to a big standing ovation from all the fans.

And afterwards he spoke about his journey back to baseball.


LAIM HENRIKS, CHICAGO WHITE SOX PITCHER: It was humbling going out there and walking out there and seeing the amount of people wearing my shirts. The amount of people having signs or flags, or anything like that. The amount of people that were chanting when I came into the game. It was a very humbling and sobering moment for me.


SCHOLES: Yes. I'll tell you what, Christine, so cool to see Hendriks get that ovation in his first game back. Same for -- same for Soroka.


SCHOLES: There were a lot of Braves fans there in Oakland cheering him on as well. Congrats to both of those guys for making it back.

ROMANS: It's always nice to see a comeback like that, you know? It's so great.


ROMANS: All right, nice to see you. Thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy scramble to get their debt ceiling deal passed. A key hurdle comes in just a matter of hours.

And next, right here, the debt limit drama also sending mortgage rates higher. What it means for the housing market.

(COMMERCIAL) [05:50:31]

ROMANS: All right. Your Romans' Numeral this morning, 80,000. Homes in Boise, Idaho selling for $80,000 less today than they did a year ago. That's a more than 15 percent drop from April 2022. Prices in Austin, Texas also fell $85,000. Some U.S. cities saw prices soar during the pandemic, right? Now they're coming back down from those stratospheric levels.

Looking at markets around the world right now, Asian markets are higher this morning. European markets mixed. Inflation in the U.K. shops rose nine percent in May from a year ago. That's a record high.

On Wall Street, stock index futures this Tuesday morning bouncing a bit here. Nasdaq doing quite well.

We are halfway through the year. I want to show you markets -- how resilient they have been, weathering recession warnings and Washington dysfunction. The S&P up nearly 10 percent. The Nasdaq up 24 percent. It has been a big tech-driven rally this year. And the Dow -- we'll call this 30-stock Dow Industrial is basically flat.

On inflation watch, gas prices held steady overnight. Gas prices more than a dollar cheaper today than a year ago.

A good week on the economic calendar as we enter the month of June. Consumer confidence data, job openings, jobless claims, all leading up to May's critical jobs report on Friday.

So what happens in Washington affects everyone, including those looking to buy a home. Mortgage rates rose last week -- debt ceiling drama stoking uncertainty.

Joining us at the desk of Bess Freedman, the CEO of Brown Harris Stevens, a real estate company with 3,000 agents in Florida, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. And, you know, Bess -- nice to see you this morning.

BESS FREEDMAN, CEO, BROWN HARRIS STEVENS: Good morning, Christine. Great to see you as always.

ROMANS: Freddie Mac's economist said that the resilient U.S. economy and then all that drama around the debt ceiling actually raised mortgage rates last week. Remind our viewers why a debt ceiling default would be so bad for the housing market.

FREEDMAN: Yes. I mean, listen, that standoff has created such uncertainty and we saw that the rates ticked up. And I think -- I think economists were saying like if they didn't reach a deal that rates would go up as much as two points.


FREEDMAN: And we're already in an unsteady, sort of, housing market. It's been very curvy and bumpy. And so, no one wants to think of the U.S. as being short of cash. It's not a good thing for the consumer and for any morning -- you know, the bond market, the stock market, and certainly not the housing market.

And so, we really -- it looks like they've reached a deal and I hope it passes the House and then the Senate. And I think we're already acting on that assumption.

ROMANS: That --

FREEDMAN: We're hoping to see some more optimism.

ROMANS: That the drama will go away.

You talked about the bumpiness of mortgage rates. You know, a year ago, the 30-year fixed was a little over five percent. It was three percent in 2021. We're still trying to get used to these six percent --

FREEDMAN: The six handle. That's what I'm using is the six.

ROMANS: The six percent number is something that is -- it's hard because a lot of people -- the majority of people have a mortgage that's in the three, four, five percent, right?

FREEDMAN: That's why sellers are sort of holding off and not wanting to see right now. Because if they sell and they have to get a new mortgage, the rate is going to be almost double. So that's why we're seeing a little bit of a standoff between sellers and buyers right now as well because rates have ticked up. And if they go up even more, that will be really a challenge for people who want to buy -- who want to get in there.

ROMANS: Is that -- is that why there aren't a lot of -- I mean, it feels like housing supply is still a real problem. There are just people who want to go buy a house -- there aren't a lot out there.

FREEDMAN: That's right, and the supply and demand is really -- you know, it's central to housing. And so, when supply is tight and then demand is high, that's what we're seeing right now. People want to be able to buy things but the prices have ticked up and then the supply has shrunk.

ROMANS: Right.

FREEDMAN: So we're sort of in this weird sort of quagmire in the housing market.

ROMANS: We talked about some of those little bubble towns that have had the steam coming out of that bubble. But there still is an affordability problem, too, right? There are a lot of --

FREEDMAN: A lot of places.

ROMANS: -- especially, first-time homebuyers say they're having a hard time sort of elbowing their way into the market. Talk to me about that.

FREEDMAN: Yes, because they're going to open houses and they're seeing there's bidding wars. There's people that are vying for these properties. They're seeing things get bid up really quickly. And the stress is there.

And the rental market -- there's no ease there either.


FREEDMAN: So it's really a tough time right now, I think.

ROMANS: So the housing market is strong? It's weak? It's transitioning? What is it?

FREEDMAN: I think it's a good -- a good way -- we're recalibrating.


FREEDMAN: We're transitioning. It's not horrible but it's not what it was in 2021. And there's good --

ROMANS: Well, you said that was the best year in the history of real estate.

FREEDMAN: I say that was champagne and caviar and celebration. I mean, everybody was reeling from that. But we're in a decent housing market.



FREEDMAN: And hopefully, we reach a deal with the debt ceiling and that gets passed, and the consumer feels a little bit at ease that we have money and we can spend and do things.

ROMANS: All right, Bess Freedman. Thank you.

FREEDMAN: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: Nice to see you --

FREEDMAN: Thanks so much.

ROMANS: -- bright and early this morning. All right.

A mass shooting in Florida leaving nine people injured, including a 1- year-old child. We have details on that investigation ahead. That's all coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."


ROMANS: Our top of the morning, the top U.S. consumer complaints as tabulated by the Consumer Federation of America.

Number one, for seven years running, sales and repair of new and used vehicles. CFA says most complaints relate to add-on products and bait- and-switch pricing, and mechanical condition. [06:00:04]

Number two, home repairs. Shoddy and incomplete work performed by contractors without proper licensing or expertise.

Banks were in the number three spot. Consumer debt and credit.

All right, thanks for joining me this Tuesday morning. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.