The Iranian regime secretly executed wrestling champion Navid Afkari on September 12 despite international outrage. His hasty execution has cast doubts about the nature of his death.
Even based on the inhumane standards of the regime’s Judiciary, death row prisoners are allowed one last visit before their execution. Navid was denied that right and was hanged without his family’s knowledge.
The 27-year-old protester, who was arrested at the age of 25 for taking part in protests in his hometown of Shiraz, southwestern Iran, was accused of killing a security agent. The accusation was based on his “confessions” and that of other “witnesses”. Navid said that he was forced to confess under torture.
Yesterday, an Iranian lawyer said that the two witnesses who had testified against executed wrestling champion Navid Afkari had retracted their claims. Babak Paknia said he was tasked one week prior to the execution by Navid’s family to review the case.
Speaking to the Emtedad Telegram channel, a “reformist” channel that operates from Iran, the lawyer said that he was surprised to hear that Navid was executed, “because the circumstances of execution are special, none of which were met in this case.”
Paknia said that Navid was charged with “retribution (murder)”, enmity against God, and a third charge of clashing with agents. The lawyer said that second case was under appeal and that the second and third cases were still open.
According to Paknia, Navid Afkari contacted his family on Friday at 11:30 pm, “which shows that conditions were normal at the time”.
The Iranian lawyer said that he did not know “what happed after that time until dawn the next day (when he was executed) and how the conditions for execution were met” in that short span of time.
Paknia cited the discrepancies in the nature of the case and said that one of the “witnesses” had retracted his claims against Navid while another witness said that he saw Navid for the first time in court.
“The hasty implementation of this sentence is dubious,” he added.
In the recorded phone call, which was posted on Twitter and social media channels, Navid says they were told they would be taken to Tehran the next morning. He also says that a number of “doctors along with Mousavi”, the Chief Justice of Fars Province, had come from the forensics organization to witness and record the signs of beatings on his body and that of his two brothers, Habib and Vahid.
Navid identified the “head of the prison guard, Khadem al-Hosseini” as the person who beat him and his brothers.
Death under torture allegations
There are reports that Navid Afkari was not executed and was killed under torture. Though these reports cannot be confirmed, eyewitnesses who saw Navid’s face said that his nose was broken and that there were no rope burns around his neck. Reports also indicate that his family was not allowed to see his body after his death, and he was hastily buried under strict security measures on the same night as his execution.
Travesty of justice
According to Amnesty International, Navid Afkari’s secret execution, “without prior notice to him, his family or lawyer, after a grossly unfair trial, is a horrifying travesty of justice that needs immediate international action.”
“This young man desperately sought help in court to receive a fair trial and prove his innocence. Leaked voice recordings of him in court expose how his pleas for judges to investigate his torture complaints and bring another detainee who had witnessed his torture to testify were unlawfully and cruelly ignored,” Amnesty’s Diana Eltahawy said in a September 12 statement.
Navid’s letters and voice messages from prison, stressing that he was tortured to make false confessions, led to a global campaign for the termination of his death sentence.
In one of the voice messages, he said that the regime wanted an excuse to hang him.
“Despite writing continuously that I was forced to confess under torture and that there was not even one piece of evidence to prove my guilt in this damn case, they didn’t want to hear my voice.”
“I realized they just wanted a neck to throw their noose around,” Navid Afkari said in the message from prison.
Last week, Navid and his two brothers, Habib and Vahid were transferred to a high-security prison section in Shiraz’s Adel Abad Prison and were cut off from the world. The Afkari brothers were taken to the “Guidance” Section, notorious for its horrid conditions, lack of minimum facilities, and reports of suicides, rapes, and murders.
Navid Afkari was sentenced to two executions, prison, and lashes while two of his brothers were sentenced to overall 81 years of prison and lashes for their participation in nationwide protests in August 2018.
Iran uses political executions to prevent future protests
The Iranian regime executes political prisoners and protesters to intimidate would be protesters and prevent future protests.
On August 5, the Iranian regime hanged a political prisoner in central Iran. Mostafa Salehi was detained during protests in Isfahan two years ago. The 30-year-old father of two was charged with killing a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during protests. Mostafa Salehi maintained his innocence until his execution and was tortured to make false confessions. No weapons, ammunition, or other evidence were found. He pleaded not guilty in court.
At least nine other protesters who have been sentenced to death are languishing in Iranian prisons.
In a statement today, UN human rights experts strongly condemned Navid’s execution.
“It is deeply disturbing that the authorities appear to have used the death penalty against an athlete as a warning to its population in a climate of increasing social unrest,” the experts said, while sending their condolences to Navid Afkari’s family.