Iranwire – It is one year since Iran executed Navid Afkari, a wrestler from Shiraz, after sentencing him to death on trumped up charges.
Navid Afkari and his brothers Habib and Vahid joined thousands of people in popular protests across Iran in August 2018. He was arrested on charges of moharebeh [war against God] and of murdering a security officer. He denied the allegations during a trial that was widely acknowledged to be unjust, insisting that officials brutally tortured him to extract a confession. No other evidence was presented apart from the confession he gave under torture. He was sentenced to death.
When news about the sentence surfaced, there was international outcry, and campaigns for his release took hold both in Iran and abroad. Athletes and sports federations joined human rights activists to speak out and save his life. But Afkari knew what was to come. “They simply look for necks for their rope,” he reportedly said.
Navid’s brothers Habib and Vahid Afkari were also arrested and remain in prison. A fourth brother, Saeed Afkari, has also faced harsh treatment.
On the anniversary of his execution, the organization Iran Human Rights called on the international community to hold the perpetrators of Navid Afkari’s death accountable. Most prominent among them are Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi, who was head of the judiciary at the time of the hanging.
IranWire spoke to Mahmoud Amiri Moghadam, director of the organization Iran Human Rights, and activist and sociologist Eli Khorsandfar, about Navid Afkar, Iran and the international community one year on from the shocking crime.
“Looking back, it must be said that, unfortunately, human rights groups took action too late because of a lack of information,” Mahmoud Amiri Moghaddam said. “We [Iran Human Rights] were one of the first organizations to document confessions under torture. But the public only knew about the issue [with regard to Navid Afkari’s case] about two weeks before the execution — that is, when the trial had been held and the verdict was issued. The prosecution was over. This may have led to a situation that encouraged the government to take a hasty step in executing Navid Afkari, regardless of the high costs involved in enforcing the death penalty, in order to create a climate of fear and intimidation.
“Islamic Republic authorities hoped to prevent further protests by executing Navid and creating fear in society, but the plan failed, thanks to the support for the family. It became one of the most costly executions in the history of the Islamic Republic. Navid’s voice reached all over Iran and the world. He was on death row, but still, from the corner of his solitary confinement cell, he told the world in his own words what had happened to him. One year after the execution, Navid Afkari’s name is synonymous with courage and he will inspire young freedom-seeking and justice-seeking people forever. Every time people hear Navid’s name, they are reminded of the unjust judiciary, and it makes it clearer that what is being done in the name of justice in Iran is in fact support for a system of repression.”
Fresh Violence Against the Afkari Family
As the anniversary of Navid Afkari’s death approached, his brother Saeed Afkari was beaten up and then arrested by authorities. He had posted on Twitter that he and his family had been warned not to mark his brother’s death in any public way — a claim that was confirmed by the family’s lawyer — and that if they did Saeed would be arrested on charges of hypocrisy. The revelations prompted dozens of responses on social media.
Saeed was released on late on the evening of September 12.
Mahmoud Amiri Moghaddam can see a pattern. “The fact that the Islamic Republic does not recognize the right of the Afkari family to mourn is nothing new. The families of many political prisoners executed by the Iranian judiciary have not even been told the location of their loved ones’ burial sites or where their bodies are. A government that has no place among its citizens is afraid of any gathering. That is why it opposes the right to mourn.
“Navid’s arrest could have been completely coincidental,” Amiri Moghaddam said, noting Navid’s statement indicating that the government just wanted a scapegoat. “But it is a fact that the government is prepared to do anything to benefit the regime. Families such as the Afkaris are victims of the ruling regime’s security operations. The only way to increase the cost of these projects for the Islamic Republic is to provide timely information to the world.”
Don’t Let the World Forget
When Navid Afkari was killed, it sent shockwaves around the world. For her part, civil society activist Eli Khorsandfar popularized two hashtags, using them on the 22nd of each month to remind the world of what had happened and urging people not to forget him. Throughout the year, she dedicated a post to Navid every month, honoring him and raising awareness about him.
“I knew through my campaign activities and through studying sociology that societies today behave in a similar way almost everywhere. They respond to an event with passion and drive, but then before too long they forget. Totalitarian systems benefit from this short-term memory, and naturally accountability cannot happen in this environment; we don’t hold the government to account. This is why when Navid was executed, despite all the efforts, I knew that people would think their actions achieved no result and would be disappointed. So again, this behavior favors totalitarian regimes.”
Khorsandfar says she had been trying to think about what she could do to keep the world thinking of Navid Afkari and others who had been executed.”In the first post I did after Navid’s execution, I asked my audience to write to me if they had been victims of repression or if their family members had been executed in the Islamic Republic anytime over the last four decades.”
She says she was overwhelmed by the volume of messages she received. ”It seemed to me that everyone living in Iran, had been harmed by or suffered because of the death penalty, whether in a personal capacity or in a more distant way.”
Navid Afkari, she says, became a symbol of solidarity, likely because he was one of many people in Iranian society “who did not belong to any political group.” She added that, in addition to an outpouring of grief about Afkari and solidarity with his family, a large number of people responding to her posts on the 22nd of each month had lost loved ones during the long string of executions in the 1980s.
The Details of Navid Afkari’s Conviction
Navid Afkari was only 27 years old at the time of his execution. He was single, and worked as a plasterer as well as wrestling professionally, for which he won several medals in domestic competitions.
He was accused of and charged with arranging the murder of a Shiraz Water and Wastewater Organization Intelligence Officer named Hassan Turkman who had been tasked with confronting protesters during the August 2018 protests in Shiraz.
Alongside Navid, his brother Vahid Afkari was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Branch One of the Criminal Court of Fars Province on charges of complicity in murder. The two brothers had repeatedly told the court that their confessions were false and that they had been tortured.
Habib Afkari, Navid’s other brother, was also arrested in connection with the case and is still being held in solitary confinement alongside Vahid.
As security forces stepped up their pressure on the family in recent days, their mother, Bahia Namjoo, posted a message about the torture and execution of her son and about what she described as the turning wheel of the Islamic Republic that is “tainted with blood”.
“People of the world, I am asking for your help today. Last year, my son, a young man, a towering hero of this homeland, died alone on the gallows of the Islamic Republic, oppressed and helpless. Since that day, Vahid and Habib have been held in solitary confinement and Vahid has been told he will be set free if he speaks out against his brother.
“Is there any conscience left in human beings so that they might lay their hands on the burning fire of my heart? Does humanity still make sense? Is it not the time to end the silence and forgetfulness and hear the final melody of my Navid?”
Before his death, Navid Afkari sent an audio clip from prison. “People! If I am executed, let everyone know that in the 21st century, despite the costs, and with all the human rights mechanisms and the United Nations and the Security Council, an innocent human being was still executed, struggling and fighting all the while.”
At the end of our conversation, Mahmoud Amiri Moghaddam raises an important point: “The more numerous we are, the less vulnerable we become. As members of civil society, we must be the voice of people like the Afkari family. As a human rights organization, we must keep on the cases, remind the international community and the countries that claim to defend human rights of these issues, and continue to speak for these families. At no time in history have ordinary people had so many tools to make their voices heard around the world. Navid was executed, but his voice was heard — not only by the Iranian people, but also by the world’s largest media and human rights foundations. One year on from the execution of Navid, CNN reported that Navid’s voice was heard everywhere. We have never seen the judiciary disgraced in this way over all the years.”