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September 4, 2020

Wrestler Sentenced to Execution Pleads Innocence


Week of August 31st, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

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Wrestler Sentenced to Execution Pleads Innocence


Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old from the city of Shiraz, has been sentenced to death and is pleading his innocence from behind bars. According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Afkari was arrested in the aftermath of protests in Shiraz in the summer of 2018, which he participated in. He was convicted of murdering a security officer and other charges.

HRANA says it has received a letter from Afkari in prison which says he was subject to “torture and ill-treatment.” Afkari says in his letter that he was “mentally and physically tortured” and was forced to confess to “fabricated and false things” while having “plastic” put over his face and nearly suffocating.

Afkari has been sentenced to two death sentences on different charges. Two of his brothers have also been sentenced to lengthy prison terms and corporal punishment. Vahid Afkari to 54 years and six months and 74 lashes and Habib Afkari to 27 years and 3 months and 74 lashes.

HRANA says their trial is ongoing in one court and two of the brothers have had lawyers: “The cases of these brothers have been reviewed on the different charges in the Criminal Courts 1 and 2 of Shiraz Province and the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz. Vahid and Navid Afkari have public attorneys, but Habib Afkari and another defendant in this case have not had lawyers.”

Mehdi Rostampour, a sports journalist who works with BBC Persian, says Navid Afkari was formerly a prominent wrestler. He says that as a teenager, Afkari reached the final round of the youth wrestling tournament in Iran. He adds that Afkari remained a leading wrestler in Iran until 2016.

Hassan Younesi, the son of former intelligence minister Ali Younesi, is the lawyer for Navid and Vahid Afkari. Younesi has denied there is evidence against his clients other than the confessions.

Younesi says CCTV footage used to identify his clients at the murder scene was from one hour before when the murder occurred. Younesi says there have been “significant shortcomings” in the trial of Navid and Vahid Afkari and that he has requested an appeal from the Supreme Court. He has expressed hope that the case will go to a retrial.

The mother of the Afkari brothers, Bahieh Namjoo, has released a video asking people to help prevent the “unjust” sentences against her children. Navid and Vahid Afkari have also released two audio tapes from prison further professing their innocence and asking for help.

In his audio tape, Navid Afkari says there is a report by the medical examiner about him being tortured and there is also a witness to his torture. The Mizan News Agency, affiliated with the judiciary, says Navid never went to the medical examiner. It states his lawyer requested that he see the medical examiner, but that when Navid went to the examiner’s office, he said he was not tortured and did not want to see the examiner.

Mizan adds: “The claim of torture was disregarded by the Supreme Court due to the defendant not requesting to see the medical examiner.”

The alleged witness to Navid’s torture also sent to an audio tape to BBC Persian and other Persian-language outlets. The witness, Shaheen Naseri, describes himself as having a master’s degree in business.

He says he was in the local office of Iranian police’s Criminal Investigation Department and states: “In the hallway I heard yelling and pleading. The guard with me asked for me to stand in the hallway until he returned. He went and opened a door. Out of curiosity I went to see what was going on. I saw two plainclothes people cursing and beating Navid mercilessly with batons and pipes. They told him to repeat whatever they said. They asked him to write down what they said. Navid pleaded for them not to hit him and said he didn’t do anything. And he put his hands on his head. One of the officers who I later learned was named Abbas hit his hands so hard that Navid cried out loud and fainted.”

This alleged witness says he went to three courts to tell what he saw but was threatened and told not to interfere.

Navid Afkari has further said of the charges against him: “They say me and my brother are part of a group against the political system. That we participated in riots in 2018 in Shiraz and insulted the Leader. And that we killed a security officer. By God, I’m innocent. There are no legal documents in this case. The only thing there is are my writings given under torture. To convict us, they also presented some fabricated and false documents.”

The judiciary’s Mizan News Agency has released a statement about the Afkari brothers’ case. It says Navid Afkari is accused of murdering Hossein Torkaman, a security officer working with Shiraz’s water and sewage plant and a father of two daughters and a son. The judiciary case claims Navid got off a motorcycle when Torkaman arrived home from work and stabbed him repeatedly with a knife.

Mizan’s report also claims Navid Afkari sought to murder a member of Iran’s Basij militia afterwards, but was unsuccessful because his “movements were inconsistent.” It also claims Navid and his brother Habib attacked another security officer and cut his leg, requiring him to get “over 200 stitches.”

On September 3rd, U.S. President Trump commented on the case and called on Iran to not execute Afkari.

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JCPOA Parties Reaffirm Commitment to Deal

The JCPOA’s Joint Commission met in Vienna at the Coburg Hotel. The Joint Commission is composed of Iran, the EU, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China. The U.S. used to be a member until it left the deal in May 2018. The JCPOA was negotiated at the Coburg Hotel in 2015.

During the meeting, the sides reaffirmed their commitment to the JCPOA and their belief that the U.S. is no longer a “participant” in the deal. The Trump administration is currently arguing it is a participant in UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the deal, and is trying to use this as a pretext to reimpose previous UN sanctions on Iran.

The UN Security Council has rejected the Trump administration’s argument and refused to let U.S. efforts to reimpose sanctions go forward. The UN Security Council’s president in August, Indonesia, and the president in September, Niger, have both refused to acknowledge the U.S. letter to the council attempting to trigger the process that would lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has maintained that even if the UN Security Council does nothing, sanctions on Iran would be automatically reimposed on September 20th. Other UN members are expected to not recognize the validity of the U.S. claim.

The Joint Commission’s statement after the meeting pushed back on the United States. It said the U.S. could “not be considered a participant state” in the JCPOA and “cannot initiate the process of reinstating UN sanctions under UNSC resolution 2231.”

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi headed the Iranian delegation at the Joint Commission. Araghchi said among the issues discussed was revitalizing INSTEX, the financial system devised by Europe to allow for continued trade with Iran despite U.S. sanctions.

However, INSTEX has not been successful so far in facilitating tangible trade with Iran. Araghchi said the Europeans are aware of the problems with INSTEX, and says they are pursuing different ideas to make it more effective.

One idea Araghchi says was discussed in Vienna was adding China and Russia to INSTEX. Other ideas included increasing the number of “shareholders” in INSTEX, resolving current “administrative barriers,” and giving it “new funding sources.”

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Conservative Saeed Jalili Considered a Presidential Contender

The reformist Fararu website has analyzed the prospects of Saeed Jalili, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator under the Ahmadinejad administration, running for president next year. Jalili is affiliated with “Jebhe Paydari” (the “Endurance Front”), which is regarded as the most right-wing and fundamentalist political faction in Iran. Jalili fought in the Iran-Iraq War as part of the IRGC and lost a leg in the conflict.

Fararu says there was recently a meeting between Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, considered the spiritual leader of the Endurance Front, and some of the group’s members regarding Jalili. The meeting was reportedly about agreeing on Jalili becoming the Endurance Front’s candidate for next year’s presidential election. However, neither Jalili nor the Endurance Front have confirmed the meeting.

Jalili is currently a member of the Expediency Council and the Supreme National Security Council. He was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2007-2013, when Iran rapidly expanded its nuclear program. Western outlets have described his negotiating style as offering “little flexibility” and favoring “long monologues.”

Fararu says that Jalili tends to be more independent and not completely beholden to political factions and groups. It discusses Jalili’s overwhelming defeat to Rouhani in the 2013 presidential election, where Jalili garnered 4 million votes to Rouhani’s nearly 19 million, in a field crowded by several other conservative candidates.

Despite that defeat, Jalili reportedly has signaled his interest in running for president again. Over the past several years, he has held “shadow government” meetings in parliament with MPs affiliated with the Endurance Front.

Jalili has also been one of the leading critics of the JCPOA in Iran. Fararu states in this regard: “Before the Rouhani administration, Jalili was the senior diplomat in Iran’s negotiations and practically had no achievements. Now he has become the leading opponent of the achievements of Rouhani in negotiations.”

Fararu says that Jalili’s political rhetoric has become more militaristic in recent times. It says this may be the style he uses if he runs in the presidential election next year, using jargon associated with the military and military operations.

Fararu says Parviz Fattah was previously considered the Endurance Front’s favored candidate for next year’s presidential election but has since fallen out of favor.  Fattah runs a major government charity, the Foundation of the Oppressed. He recently spurred major controversy by naming government officials and institutions for holding on to the charity’s property illicitly. There was major backlash to his remarks, which Fararu says is the reason the Endurance Front no longer favors him.

Fararu also says there is significant opposition to Jalili becoming the Endurance Front’s presidential candidate from within the ranks of the faction. Many believe he cannot become the consensus candidate among conservatives and garner significant public support.

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Amnesty International Report Says Detainees Tortured After November Protests

A new report by Amnesty International accuses Iran’s government of widespread human rights violations after protests that swept the country last November. The protests were triggered by the abrupt increase in the price of gasoline and many took on anti-government slogans.

Amnesty says detainees have been “flogged, sexually abused and given electric shocks.” The report is based on witnesses Amnesty says are credible and information from families of victims.

Amnesty says many detainees have been given prison sentences ranging from one month to 10 years for “vague and spurious national security charges.” According to one Iranian parliamentarian last year, at least 7,000 were arrested nationwide amid the protests.

Amnesty says at least 304 were killed in the protests. Iranian officials say 225 were killed, of which a number were security forces.

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