Iran Executes A Famous Wrestler Despite Global Criticism

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On Saturday, Iran reportedly executed one of its most famous wrestlers, Navid Afkari. He was allegedly convicted of stabbing a security guard to death while the anti-government protests were going on in the year 2018, defying international appeals for him to be spared. Navid Afkari was a national champion in the sport of wrestling. Wrestling as a sport is extremely popular in Iran and has a long history. According to the reports released by State media, Navid was a 27-year-old wrestler who was executed by hanging in the city of Shiraz.

What exactly happened with Afkari and What were the charges against him?

It was 17 September 2018 when Navid Afkari was arrested. He was given two death sentences. One- enmity against God, given by a Revolutionary Court and another sentence was for retribution in kind by the criminal court, both of them being in relation to the murder of the security guard. His brothers- Vahid and Habib Afkari– were also sentenced for connections in the same case wherein Vahid Afkari was sentenced to a jail tenure of 56 years and six months while Habib Afkari was sentenced to 24 years and three months in prison along with 74 lashes each. However, all three Afkari brothers have denied such allegations and their mother said that all her sons were pressurized and tortured to testify against each other, a claim which Iranian Authorities have clearly denied. But recently, in August, the country ultimately declared a confirmation on Navid’s death sentence for participation in the protests.

Afkari’s lawyer tweeted that as against the reports, there is practically no proof or video of Afkari killing the security guard and that the footage claimed to be an evidence was taken an hour before the crime actually took place. The happening took place on 2nd August 2018 in the city of Shiraz.

What happened in the Anti-government protests?

Iran witnessed a massive uprising in December 2017 when people of the country took to the streets in order to protests against the then-current government. These demonstrations were the biggest in the country since the year 2009. During that period Iranians’ agenda for protests was the re-run of a disputed presidential election. In 2017, the protestors demanded an end to the Islamic regime. They highlighted Hassan Rouhani’s government’s inability to recover from the economic shocks and revive the economy as well as the government’s failure to cater to crucial issues such as massive unemployment and inflation prominent in the nation. They also demanded an answer to why the country was carrying out humongous expenses on conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East, especially when people at home were in a terrible condition.

The assemblies began in Iran’s Mashhad in response to the high prices of basic goods. Later on, the protests spread to around 50 cities and towns as well as Tehran, the capital of the country. The demurrals also turned violent and aggressive in many locations, with several people being killed in clashes with security forces and many more being arrested.

A voice recording by Afkari from inside the prison was released by Amnesty International. In the recording, he 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.” Moreover, according to Amnesty International, he called his family on September 6, saying that he is held in a wing of Shiraz’s Adelabad prison before hanging up the call. September 5, was a hurtful day when his confession, alleged to be forced, was shown on Iranian state TV. This confession was part of a propaganda video that aimed to justify his execution. It is also reported that he claimed to be tortured into making a confession. Adding onto the injustices is the fact that he had been prevented from seeing his family before his death, as required under Iranian law.

How have Iranians and people all over the world responded to his execution?

The nation has receiver several calls demanding a cancellation on the execution decision, including from a union representing 85,000 athletes around the world.

The World Players Association also reacted on the news by saying that he had been “unjustly targeted” for protesting. The Association also called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it did not stop the execution of an innocent.

The previous week, the President of the United States, Donald Trump, had made a request to the Iranian government not to go ahead with its decision to execute Afkari. Taking the matter to a popular social media website, Twitter, Trump said- “Hearing that Iran is looking to execute a great and popular wrestling star, 27-year-old Navid Afkari, whose sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets. They were protesting the ‘country’s worsening economic situation and inflation. To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate it if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!”.

International agencies and organizations had also put intense pressure on the country to not go ahead with Afkari’s death sentence. The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had made severe appeals to the Supreme Leader as well as the President of Iran to extend orders for mercy to Afkari. In response to his execution, the IOC released a statement saying it is in complete shock and dismay after hearing the news. The statement read – “It is deeply upsetting that the pleas of athletes from around the world and all the behind-the-scenes work of the IOC, together with the NOC of Iran, United World Wrestling and the National Iranian Wrestling Federation, did not achieve our goal.” Amnesty International, a Human rights organization, described this execution as a “travesty of justice”.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist also shared her deep condolences after he was executed saying that Iranians are ‘furious’ due to the killing of one of us people by the Islamic Republic for the crime of protesting, which is not acceptable in the 21st Century. She also demanded a boycott by Iran from all sporting events.

Hassan Younesi also tweeted- “Were you in such a hurry to carry out the sentence that you deprived Navid of a last visit?”.

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