Family of Executed Wrestler Seeks Supreme Court Review

Ghost of Navid Afkari Haunts Judiciary Chief’s Election Bid

June 15, 2021 – One week before Iranian Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi runs virtually uncontested for president, the family of Navid Afkari—a wrestler who was executed under Raisi’s watch—has filed a supreme court petition seeking a judicial review of the cases against him and his two brothers.

Two of Afkari’s brothers, who remain detained in connection to his case, are meanwhile being denied proper medical treatment despite having suffered severe injuries in state custody, according to their relatives. They have also been held in solitary confinement for nearly nine months.

“Raisi has been telling the Iranian people that he wants to fight corruption while allowing injustice to reign supreme in courts and prisons as judiciary chief,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

“The deeply flawed cases against the Afkari brothers should be investigated through a fair and transparent judicial process,” added Ghaemi.

The Afkari family filed the petition with the Supreme Court on June 14 requesting that all three cases be reviewed.

A few days earlier, on June 10, Saeed Afkari tweeted that a medical examiner had confirmed that his brothers Vahid and Habib Afkari had been severely injured in state custody.

“According to the opinion of the medical examiner, my brother Habib, during his detention in the intelligence office, suffered broken fingers and toes, a broken wrist that hasn’t healed, and a ruptured shoulder, and my brother Vahid suffers from injuries to his neck and hand due to an attempted suicide in protest against physical and psychological torture. They have been in solitary confinement for 279 days and are still being denied treatment.”

Saeed Afkari also tweeted that his mother, father, other relatives, and activists were violently arrested by plainclothes agents as they gathered on June 12 in front of Abdelabad Prison in Shiraz where the brothers are held to mark the 280th day of Vahid and Habib’s solitary confinements. The demonstrators were released after a few hours.

Judiciary Chief Raisi is Responsible for Prisoner Safety

CHRI urges the judicial authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran to allow Vahid and Habib Afkari to receive proper medical treatment and to free them until the start of their trial.

Judiciary Chief Raisi is ultimately responsible for the safety and security of all prisoners, including the unlawful and inhuman treatment of the Afkari brothers, the numerous acts of physical and psychological torture they’ve sustained during detention, and their prolonged solitary confinement.

CHRI condemns the lack of transparency and fairness in the flawed judicial process against the Afkari brothers and calls on judicial authorities to take transparent and lawful steps to investigate the allegations of torture, forced false “confessions,” and prosecute the perpetrators.

Brothers Detained During Protests, Tortured, One Hanged

Champion wrestler Navid Afkari, 27, was hanged in Adelabad Prison in Shiraz in September 2020 after being accused of killing a security guard during street protests.

He had previously filed a complaint with the judiciary on September 13, 2019, alleging that he had been forced to provide false “confessions” while being subjected to the “most severe physical and psychological torture” during nearly 50 days in police detention.

Navid Afkari, 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. Their brother Habib Afkari was arrested three months later.

Navid and Vahid Afkari were charged with “waging war against the state, corruption on earth and forming an anti-revolutionary group” for participating in street protests that took place in the city at that time and for allegedly killing a security guard on August 2, 2018. The exact charges against Habib Afkari are unclear.

Habib has been sentenced to 27.3 years in prison and Vahid to 25 years in prison. Both have also been sentenced to 74 lashes.

In September 2020, Navid Afkari’s lawyer told CHRI that security camera footage proved Navid could not have committed the murder.

In a special report on June 17, 2021, BBC Persian Service revealed new documents indicating severe physical and psychological torture against the living Afkari brothers.

The pressures were so intense that Vahid Afkari attempted suicide after being assisted by Adelabad Prison officials who gave him a glass cup to cut his throat, the report said.

In a recent audio message smuggled out of prison, Vahid Afkari said he was tortured and fears he will also be executed. “I can only depend on reason and the law,” he said. “There’s no other way [to save my life]. People of Iran, I’m innocent!”

Based on Article 474 of Iran’s Code of Criminal Procedure, judicial reviews may be requested after a sentence has been finalized, regardless of whether it has been carried out or not.

Article 474 specifies that the convicted person or her/his lawyer can request a judicial review in various circumstances, including:

  • If the court’s ruling was based on false evidence or untrue witness statements.
  • After the final sentence, an incident may occur or new evidence may surface that could prove the convicted person’s innocence or lack of culpability.
  • The committed act may not be a crime or the punishment is more than what is specified by law.

Senior officials speaking on behalf of Judiciary Chief Raisi offered the Afkari brothers freedom after serving one year in prison if they admitted to committing murder—or face execution, Persian-language media outletsreported in April 2021.

Amnesty International has launched an online campaign to put international pressure on Iranian officials, especially Raisi, to release the brothers.

After Navid’s execution, the Afkari family repeatedly objected to the continued incarceration of Habib and Vahid and voiced their demands for justice despite being harassed and threatened by judicial officials.

“While initiating a fair review of the Afkari brothers’ cases through an independent branch of the Supreme Court, Iranian judicial authorities should also identify and prosecute those who are torturing and mistreating prisoners to prevent further injustices,” said Ghaemi. 

Read this in Persian