“There is not one shred of evidence … they are looking for a neck for their rope”
September 2, 2020—The Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari has been sentenced to death for allegedly killing a security man in Shiraz, Fars Province at the time of the summer 2018 protests in the province—despite evidence that he did not commit the alleged crime and that he was tortured during interrogation into giving a false “confession.”“The Iranian authorities are increasingly using death sentences to terrorize the population into remaining silent and end any further participation in peaceful protests,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).
“Death sentences from a judicial system that ignores evidence, denies due process and tortures its detainees into false ‘confessions’ are nothing less than murder,” Ghaemi added.
Navid’s death sentence has been upheld on appeal. Navid’s two brothers, Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, were similarly convicted unjustly with Navid, and sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison respectively. All three were also condemned to 74 lashes.
CHRI calls for the immediate halt to any plans for the execution of Navid Afkari, and a thorough, unbiased judicial review of all three convictions.
Lawyer: Camera Footage Proves Afkari Could Not Have Committed the Murder
A security camera recording, based on which the Iranian wrestling champion was given the death sentence, actually proves he could not have committed the murder he is accused of, Afkari’s attorney Hassan Younesi said in an interview with CHRI on September 1, 2020.
“There is no visual evidence of the moment of the crime when [water company security employee Hassan Torkman] was killed, and the film presented in this case shows scenes an hour before the time of the murder,” Younesi told CHRI.
Navid, who has won several freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling medals in Iranian and international tournaments, and his brother Vahid Afkari were arrested in Shiraz on September 17, 2018. Another brother, Habib Afkari, was arrested three months later. They were charged with “waging war against the state, corruption on earth and forming anti-revolutionary group” for participating in protests that took place in the city at that time and for killing a security man on August 2, 2018.
Death Sentence Upheld Despite Formal Complaints Filed for Torture
Navid’s death sentence has been upheld by the Supreme Court, Younesi said, despite formal complaints filed against interrogators for committing torture.
Navid filed a complaint with the judiciary on September 13, 2019, detailing how he was forced to give false confessions while being subjected to “the most severe physical and psychological torture” during nearly 50 days in police detention.
In an audio file shared on August 30, 2020, Navid is heard saying that the Medical Examiner’s Office in Shiraz carried out an examination of his injuries that were caused under torture.
“The evidence is there if the court wants to investigate [the acts of torture] … There is not one shred of evidence in this damned case that shows I’m guilty. But they don’t want to listen to us. I realized they are looking for a neck for their rope,” Navid said.
The official news agency of Iran’s judiciary, Mizan, claimed in a report on August 31, 2020, that “a review of the closed-circuit camera footage from a street where the killer was pursued led to the arrest of Navid Afkari as a suspect in this case.”
All Three Brothers Severely Tortured
In a video message on August 30, 2020, the mother of the Afkari brothers, Behieh Namjoo, said: “Vahid has been under so much physical and psychological torture that he attempted suicide three times… to force him to implicate Navid.”
She added: “They held an unjust and false trial where my children were not able to defend themselves and sentenced them without evidence of any crime…
“I call upon the people of the world and the people of Iran and anyone who can hear me to help [fight] the unjust sentences against my sons.”
In another audio file shared on August 31, 2020, Navid’s brother Vahid also talks about being tortured and threatened during interrogation:
“I was in a coma in the Namazi Hospital (in Shiraz) for three days and no one could hear me. Then they tortured me and put a plastic bag over my head. They beat me with chains for hours and struck the bottom of my feet with a baton. They would pee on the floor and force me to walk on it. They threatened to arrest my mother and sister.”
Vahid continued: “From the very beginning the victims’ parents denied knowing us. I told the judge to present a witness. If there’s proof of my presence on my phone or on a camera footage, show it. If a murder weapon has been uncovered at our home, show it… when I said these things the judge only laughed and made fun of us.”