Iran disregards outcry with wrestler’s ‘hasty’ execution

A woman holds a portrait of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari during a protest rally in the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, against his execution in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz. )AFP)
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Updated 18 September 2020

Iran disregards outcry with wrestler’s ‘hasty’ execution

PARIS: Iran has signalled it intends to ignore a growing outcry over its use of the death penalty against people arrested during anti-government protests by executing with unusual swiftness a wrestler whose case had won international attention, activists say. 

Navid Afkari, 27, a wrestler who had won national competitions, was hanged on Saturday at Adelabad Prison in the southern city of Shiraz after being convicted of committing a murder during protests that rocked the city two years ago. 

US President Donald Trump had urged Iran to spare the life of Afkari while international rights organizations had insisted allegations, he had been tortured into confessing needed to be investigated and that there was no firm evidence of his guilt. 

Using a technique that has been repeatedly denounced abroad, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB on Aug. 5 broadcast a purported confession by Afkari, in which he was shown reenacting the alleged crime scene. 

But activists are incensed that the Iranian judiciary took no account of claims — made by Afkari himself in a complaint — that he had been tortured into confessing with methods that included beating and having alcohol squeezed up his nose. 

SPEEDREAD

  • US President Donald Trump had urged Iran to spare the life of Afkari while international rights organizations had insisted allegations, he had been tortured into confessing needed to be investigated and that there was no firm evidence of his guilt.

His execution came as the use of capital punishment in Iran — which sends more people to death every year than any country other than China — is coming under increasing scrutiny after the government was rocked by protests prompted by increasing economic hardship. 

“It is deeply disturbing that the authorities appear to have used the death penalty against an athlete as a warning to its population in a climate of increasing social unrest,” five UN rights experts said in a statement Monday. 

Tara Sepehri Far, Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch, described as “unusual” the speed with which Afkari’s death sentence was implemented. 

He had been sentenced to death in October 2019 and the verdict was upheld by an appeals court in April. 

“At least part of the system ... feel that responding to international outcry is backing down and could make them more vulnerable,” she told AFP. 

“There has also been a growing anti-death penalty movement inside the country against the sentences issued in connection to the protests. I think they might fear that if they don’t show force they appear weak.” 

The judiciary had in July halted the executions of three young men who took part in November 2019 anti-government protests, in the face of a furious social media campaign both inside and outside Iran under the hashtag #Don’t_Execute (#Edam_Nakon in Persian). 

But Iran in August went ahead with the execution of Mostafa Salehi, convicted of shooting dead a member of the security forces during 2017-18 protests in the Isfahan region. 

Mansoureh Mills, researcher on Iran at Amnesty International, argued that the “general mood among Iranians is shifting away from the death penalty” while the world is “looking in horror” at Iran’s increasing use of capital punishment against regime opponents. 

“The Iranian authorities are using executions like that of Navid Afkari as a tool of political control and oppression to instil fear among the public.” 

Activists say that not only did Iran ignore the claims of torture but it also rushed ahead with the execution without allowing for the chance of reconciliation with the family of the victim. 

“The authorities were afraid that waiting one more week would have made the political costs of his execution unaffordable,” said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, founder of the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR), describing the execution as “hasty.” 

He said a “likely explanation” was that Afkari was in such poor condition due to torture that it was decided to hang him to avoid further embarrassment. He was also buried hastily at night, Amiry-Moghaddam noted. 

The UN experts said Afkari’s family had been traveling to Shiraz in the hope of reconciliation with the family of the victim, which under Iran’s Sharia law can overturn the death sentence. 

These elements “suggest that there was an attempt by the authorities to expedite his execution,” they added. 

The judiciary in Shiraz’s Fars province said in a statement quoted by the Mizan news website that all the appropriate legal steps had been observed, denying Afkari had been tortured and slamming “untrue material” published about the case. 

Reporting on Afkari’s execution, Iranian state media said the man killed, Hasan Turkeman, was an employee of the municipal water company. 

However, activists noted that after his death he was described by Mizan as a member of the security forces, with pictures showing a well-attended funeral. 

The purported confession broadcast by IRIB showed Afkari describing the incident and then showing how Turkeman was allegedly stabbed in the back with a knife by a passenger — played by Afkari himself — on a passing motorbike. 

According to a document posted by the Human Rights Activists News Agency, Afkari had filed a complaint with the judiciary in Sept. 13, 2019 saying he had been forced to give false confessions under torture. 

“I have all kinds of documents to prove my innocence,” said a voice recording attributed to Afkari by supporters that went viral after his execution. 

“If I am executed, people should know that in the 21st century, Iran still executes innocent people.”


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.