Death sentence against wrestler moves Iran | DW Freedom | Speech. Expression. Media. | DW | 09.09.2020

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Death sentence against wrestler moves Iran

​​​​​​​The death sentence against Navid Afkari has caused indignation on social media. The athlete was arrested and charged with murder in 2018. He says his confession was obtained under torture.

"A faint flame of hope has risen in their hearts," Iranian photographer Pooria Nouri wrote to DW about the effect of sudden public attention on the cases Navid Afkari and his two brothers who are also imprisoned. Pooria Nouri's brother Kasra, a member of the oppressed religious minority Gonabadi Dervishes, is in the same prison as the Afkari brothers in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz.

Nouri wrote that the public's support has improvided the "psychological condition" of Habib (29), Vahid (35) and Navid (27) Afkari.

The Afkari brothers were arrested in the fall of 2018 but the case has gone widely unnoticed although the youngest of the three, Navid, is a well-known wrestler in Iran.

Last week, the desperate mother of the three men appeared in a video on social networks. Since then, many people in Iran and foreign media have reported and shared their views on the case. In the emotional video the mother demands a fair trial for her sons, especially for Navid who was was sentenced to death twice. Vahid was sentenced to 54 years in prison and 74 lashes and Habib to 27 years and 74 lashes.

Murder case on the sidelines of protests

A death sentence will be carried out only after almost six years in prison and 74 whiplashes. Navid Afkari is said to have confessed to having killed an official during protests in Shiraz. His mother said that Navid was tortured for a long time and that his brothers were also tortured to make them testify against him.

The case revolves around a man who was attacked with a knife in a Shiraz street late at night on August 2, 2018. He later died in hospital. Fars News, an agency close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, wrote at the time that the murdered man was an official. There are no witnesses to the crime. Forty-five days after the incident, the police arrested several young people who were suspected to have been near the scene of the crime based on mobile phone data. Among them were Navid Afkari and his brother Vahid. Two months later Habib was also arrested.

Read more: Amnesty: Iranian security forces committed human rights violations amid 2019 protests

Gegen die Todesstrafe

Iran is frequently criticized for its use of the death penalty and its political justice system

Report of torture

During the trial, the Afkari brothers did not have a lawyer. Their public defender is said to have dropped the case so the men defended themselves. In early September, an audio recording smuggled out of prison was published on social networks. In it Navid Afkari describes how he was tortured: "They pulled a plastic bag over my head until I almost suffocated. They beat my hands, stomach and feet with sticks, tied me up and poured alcohol into my nose." He said he informed the authorities about the torture and filed a complain in vain. Afkari: "When I asked the judge in the courtroom where the evidence was that I was a murderer, he replied: 'This is not Switzerland, boy'."

Navid was found guilty of going to "war against God" and "forming a group against the political system." The double death penalty stems from the fact that he was punished not only for the aforementioned crimes, but also as retribution for the alleged murder. In the audio recording Navid said: "They simply need a neck for their gallows."

Schweiz Lausanne Olympische Ringe

Some hope for an intervention by the International Olympic Committee

Hope for progress

Last Monday, the news portal of the Iranian judiciary Mizan reported about the alleged existence of a surveillance camera in the area of the crime in Shiraz. The report said the video footage showed a man resembling Navid stabbing the officer. Hasan Yunesi, the new lawyer representing the Afkari brothers, refuted this claim via Twitter: "There is no recording of the crime. The last pictures of the surveillance camera were taken one hour before the crime."

Meanwhile Iranian users are trying to organize support for the Afkari brothers, appealing to international wrestling organizations and the International Olympic Committee.

Read more: Iran: Imprisoned human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh on hunger strike over prison conditions

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