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 Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.