On September 12th, the Iranian government executed wrestler Navid Afkari after a weeks-long international campaign rallying for his safety. Afkari was originally sentenced after being tied to the murder of Hasan Turkman, Iran’s former water and sewage department security agent. According to Iranian state media source Mizan, the murder was part of the August 2018 Shiraz protests.
The European Union fiercely opposes Afkari’s execution. On September 14th, an EU spokesperson released a statement affirming that the EU “is opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances and cases with no exception,” calling the execution “a cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent and represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.” In the same statement, the EU affirmed that it will continue dialogue about the execution with Iranian authorities.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also announced its condemnation of the Iranian government’s decision. According to a statement the committee released, “Thomas Back, the IOC President, had made direct personal appeals to the Supreme Leader and to the President of Iran this week and asked for mercy for Navid Afkari, while respecting the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
However, according to Iranian judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hossein Esmaeili, Afkari received this death sentence under the Islamic verdict of qisas. Sentences made under qisas may be pardoned by the family of the victim. Afkari had flown into Shiraz to meet with the victim’s family and discuss this decision, but was notified upon arrival that the family had already decided not to pardon him. Afkari was executed before receiving his final visitation with his own family, according to experts, and was afterwards buried secretly at night. The lack of due process in this case has caused citizens and international officials alike to raise questions about why the Iranian government would have wanted to expedite the judicial process.
As the World Player’s Association pointed out, “Navid was one of thousands of Iranian citizens who took part in spontaneous demonstrations that year against economic hardship and political repression in Iran.” In such a scenario, it is obvious that the execution may have been fueled by ulterior motives. Why was Afkari, of the thousands present at these protests, the individual selected to receive this verdict? His high-profile status as a wrestler made him a target – a regular citizen with the same sentence may have never received such heavy media coverage. The World Player’s Association believes the Iranian government may have used Afkari to make a point. Afkari, the Association says, “has been unjustly targeted by the Iranian authorities who want to make an example out of a popular, high-profile athlete and intimidate others who might dare exercise their human right to a participate in peaceful protest.”
The 2018 protests that Afkari and thousands of other Iranians were involved in were a response to Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal. At the time of Trump’s withdrawal, many Iranians feared economic hardship. Further protests and demonstrations became prevalent as inflation spiked.
In the words of Amnesty International, Navid Afkari’s execution is a “travesty of justice.” Afkari’s death serves as a grim warning to other Iranians: participation in a protest or a public display of opposition may be darkly punished. It is unclear how similar cases will be handled in Iran. We can only hope that others receive a more fair and respectful due process.
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