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Iran: wrestling champion Navid Afkari feared at risk of imminent secret execution

The Iranian authorities must immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of Navid Afkari, a wrestling champion at imminent risk of being executed in secret, Amnesty International said today.

The organisation also called on the international community, including UN human rights bodies and EU member states, to urgently intervene.

According to recent information obtained by Amnesty, Navid Afkari made a short phone call to his family on 6 September and was able to say that he was being held in a wing of Adelabad prison in the city of Shiraz that has high security and harsh conditions, before the call was cut off.

His family have not heard from him since, and authorities have refused to provide any information about him or his two brothers, Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, who are also imprisoned in Adelabad prison.

In recent weeks, Navid Afkari’s request for a judicial review of his death sentence was rejected by the Supreme Court.

The Iranian authorities have a history of carrying out executions in secret after transferring people out of their regular places of detention and refusing to provide their families information about their fate and whereabouts.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“Amnesty International is calling on the international community, including UN human rights bodies and EU member states, to urgently intervene and demand the Iranian authorities immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of these three brothers and to save Navid Afkari from execution.

“These brothers are the latest victims of Iran’s deeply flawed criminal justice system, and their case is further evidence that Iranian courts systematically rely on ‘confessions’ obtained under torture and other ill-treatment to secure criminal convictions, in contravention of international law.”

On 3 September 2020, Navid Afkari was moved from the general ward by prison authorities to an undisclosed location. The move came after a voice recording of Navid Afkari pleading for help from the international community went viral on social media, sparking a global outcry. 

His two brothers, Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, were also moved in a violent manner by prison authorities from the general ward to an undisclosed location two days later.


Sentenced to death

Navid Afkari was arrested on 17 September 2018. He has been given two death sentences – one for qesas (retribution in kind) by a criminal court and a second one for moharebeh (enmity against God) by a Revolutionary Court – both in connection with the murder of an intelligence agent which took place on 2 August 2018 in Shiraz.

His brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were sentenced to 56 years and six months in prison, and 24 years and three months in prison respectively, and 74 lashes each, in connection with the same murder, and “national security” offences related to nationwide protests that took place in August 2018 and December 2017/January 2018.

The brothers faced multiple criminal proceedings, all of which were grossly unfair and relied on forced “confessions” which the brothers have said were obtained under torture. None of the judges presiding over their cases ordered investigations into their torture allegations. All three brothers have maintained their innocence. 

On 5 September 2020, Navid Afkari’s forced “confession” was aired on state television by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting corporation in a propaganda video that tried to justify his death sentence and divert attention away from his serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.

The Iranian authorities have a long-standing record of working with state television to produce and broadcast coerced statements obtained from victims of human rights violations under torture and other ill-treatment, and including them in propaganda videos that distort the reality of the human rights violations perpetrated by the authorities or seek to justify them.

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to execute the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

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