On 12 September 2020, the Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari was secretly executed. Afkari had been charged and convicted of stabbing police officers during anti-government protests. However, the evidence of his guilt is disputable. Afkari himself claimed that he had been tortured to confess, and his confession was the key evidence for his death sentence.
In 2018, Navid Afkari, a young Iranian wrestler, took part in an anti-government protest in the Iranian city of Shiraz. Protesters in cities across Iran took to the streets over economic hardship and political repression. Afkari was charged with stabbing and killing a member of the security forces and was sentenced to death. His two brothers who had also attended the demonstration were sentenced to 54 years and 27 years in prison.
Afkari’s lawyer said on Twitter that contrary to Iranian news reports there was no video of the moment of the security guard’s killing. He added that the footage which was used as evidence in the case had been taken an hour before the crime allegedly took place. The only evidence for the killing was the confession of the wrestler.
Violations of Afkari’s human rights during the process
During the trial, Afkari was subjected to many human rights violations, such as enforced disappearance, torture and other forms of ill-treatment which led to his forced “confession” and subsequent denial of an access to a lawyer and other guarantees of a fair trial.
Leaked voice recordings from the testimony before the trial show that the Iranian authorities unlawfully and cruelly ignored Afkari’s requests to investigate his complaints about torture as well as his demands to hear a testimony of another detainee who had witnessed it first hand. Shortly before the execution, another voice recording from the prison was published in which Afkari said: “If I am executed, I want you to know that an innocent person, even though he tried and fought with all his strength to be heard, was executed.”
Iranian law determines that a convicted person may say goodbye to their family before carrying out the execution. According to Afkari’s lawyer, the Iranian authorities denied Afkari’s family the right of the last visit as they conducted the execution without any prior notice.
Appeals to stop the execution from all around the world
Afkari’s death sentence prompted a global call to stop his execution, including from a union representing 85,000 athletes worldwide. The World Players Association stated that Afkari had been “unjustly targeted” for taking part in the protests and advocated for Iran’s expulsion from world sports if it went ahead with the execution.
The former US president Donald Trump also called for the abandonment of the execution. He specifically asked for a pardon for Afkari, which he justified by saying that the only thing the wrestler had committed was taking part in an anti-government demonstration.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) called his execution “very sad news” and their statement also said that it was not appropriate that the pleas of athletes from around the world and the work of the IOC were unsuccessful.
Amnesty International described the case as a “travesty of justice”
Amnesty International actively sought to moderate the penalty for Afkari throughout his imprisonment. More than 10,000 people signed the petition for the abolition of the death penalty for Afkari. Following the announcement of the execution, the movement immediately responded with an article calling the secret execution a “travesty of justice” and urging for an immediate international response.
Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, commented on the case, describing Afkari as a man with a promising future. In her view, the death penalty was carried out without any respect for justice and human rights. She accused the judges of failing to investigate Afkari’s confession by enforcing it through the torture. She also called on the international community, the UN human rights bodies and the EU Member States to take action against Iran through public and private interventions as well as pushing the Iranian authorities to abolish the death penalty.
Chance for change?
Activists and people who stood for Afkari still believe that the international outcry could eventually contribute to improving the human rights situation in Iran. More time will be arguably needed to see whether any changes will come into place and Afkari’s execution will be properly investigated. So far, the Iranian government has distanced itself from the act and has not made any public statements on the matter.
Amnesty International. Iran: Secret execution of wrestler Navid Afkari a ‘travesty of justice’. 12 September 2020 (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/09/iran-secret-execution-
BBC. Navid Afkari: Iran executes young wrestler despite global outcry. 12 September 2020 (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-54129949).
National Council of Resistance of Iran. World Community Can Stop Further Executions in Iran by Helping Navid Afkari and Holding the Regime To Account for Its Past Crimes. 2 September 2020 (https://www.ncr-iran.org/en/news/iran-resistance/world-community-can-
The vigil held for Navid at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto, author: The Post Millennial, 14 September 2020, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, edits: cropped.