Global outcry over Iranian wrestler’s execution

Afkari's attorney accused authorities of denying his client a family visit before the execution, as required by law. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 September 2020

Global outcry over Iranian wrestler’s execution

  • Young champion was hanged on Saturday morning
  • Human rights groups, politicians, sports bodies issue condemnation

LONDON: Tehran’s execution of champion Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been widely condemned by rights groups, politicians and sports associations.

The 27-year-old was hanged on Saturday after being found guilty of the murder of a security officer during anti-government protests in 2018.

The “secret execution” of Afkari, “without prior notice to him, his family or lawyer, after a grossly unfair trial, is a horrifying travesty of justice that needs immediate international action,” Amnesty International said in a statement issued to Arab News.

In the run up to his execution, he “was subjected to a shocking catalogue of human rights violations and crimes, including enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment,” Amnesty added.

Throughout his detention, he was denied access to a lawyer and tortured into making forced confessions that were then broadcast on Iranian state TV.

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said Afkari had continued to seek justice up until his sentence was carried out.

“This young man desperately sought help in court to receive a fair trial and prove his innocence,” she added.

“Leaked voice recordings of him in court expose how his pleas for judges to investigate his torture complaints and bring another detainee who had witnessed his torture to testify were unlawfully and cruelly ignored.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also condemned the execution, calling it a “cruel act” that “shows an utter disregard for the most fundamental human rights norms.”

HRW denounced Iran’s judicial system, and said Afkari’s death sentence was emblematic of a “systematic pattern in which Iranian authorities disregard torture allegations and use coerced confessions in trial proceedings.”

Afkari’s hanging also drew condemnation from US politicians across the political spectrum. On Twitter, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden described it as “cruel” and “a travesty,” and urged Iran to “free its other political prisoners.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted that the execution was a “vicious and cruel act,” and “an outrageous assault on human dignity, even by the despicable standards of this regime.” He added: “The voices of the Iranian people will not be silenced.”

Various international sports bodies have also been vocal in their condemnation. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was “shocked” by the “very sad news.”

It added that IOC President Thomas Bach had appealed directly to Iran’s president and its supreme leader to spare Afkari’s life, and that it was “deeply upsetting” that his execution was carried out regardless.

Geneva-based United World Wrestling, the governing body for amateur wrestling worldwide, said it was “deeply upsetting” that Tehran had ignored the “pleas of athletes from around the world.”

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”