Navid Afkari was young, handsome, and according to his friend, had such a gentle soul that he “wouldn’t even harm an ant.” As a champion wrestler in Iran, the 27-year-old had a bright future. Yet his young and promising life was cut short on September 12, when he was tortured then secretly executed by the Iranian regime.
Two years ago, like many of his fellow citizens, Navid decided he had enough of the brutal regime in Iran. In his own words, the economic conditions in Iran have been so devastating that he had to give up wrestling to find a job to support his family. So Navid joined his fellow Iranians in one of the largest peaceful protests in Iran’s history.
Between December 2017 and January 2018, protests rejected the regime’s policy that supported terrorist groups in Syria, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East while ignoring economic hardships at home. The protesters called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down. The Iranian government responded by imposing restrictions on social media apps and arresting several hundred protestors.
A Travesty of Injustice
The regime’s crackdown failed to intimidate protesters. Navid and other Iranians returned to the streets in early August 2018, continuing to protest against the economic corruption of government officials and the country’s worsening economic conditions, caused by high inflation and a sharp decline in the value of the country’s currency, the rial.
A month later, Iranian authorities arrested Navid and his two brothers, Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, on a trumped-up charge that claimed they were connected to the murder of an intelligence agent on August 2, 2018 in Shiraz. According to Amnesty International, the Afkari brothers were denied fair trials, access to legal representation, and family visits.
The Iranian government presented no credible evidence to support its murder charge. Instead, it relied on the “confessions” of the three brothers, which the brothers said they were forced to make after being brutally tortured. Rather than investigating the torture allegations, judges presiding the murder case proceeded to count the “confessions” as evidence and sentenced Navid to death.
Outcry Falling on Deaf Ears
Navid’s two brothers received harsh sentences as well: Vahid was sentenced to 56 years and six months in prison, Habib was sentenced 24 years and three months in prison. Each brother also received 74 lashes. Amnesty International noted in a statement:
These brothers are the latest victims of Iran’s deeply flawed criminal justice system, and their case is further evidence that Iranian courts systematically rely on ‘confessions’ obtained under torture and other ill-treatment to secure criminal convictions, in contravention of international law.
Since Navid was a well-known athlete, his death sentence drew an outcry from international communities, especially in the sports world. The World Players Association, an international body that represents professional athletes, said in a statement:
Navid was one of the thousands of Iranian citizens who took part in spontaneous demonstrations that year against economic hardship and political repression in Iran. However, he has been unjustly targeted by the Iranian authorities who want to make an example out of a popular, high-profile athlete and intimidate others who might dare exercise their human right to participate in peaceful protest.
Many people around the world, including U.S. President Donald Trump, called on the Iranian regime to spare Navid’s life. On September 6, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation aired Navid’s forced “confession” in an attempt to justify his death sentence. Navid maintained his innocence.
His request for a judicial review of his death sentence was rejected by the Supreme Court. Navid’s mother, who was denied seeing her sons, told Iranian reporter Masih Alinejad that she checked the website of Iran’s judicial system every day to make sure Navid was still alive.
Despite the international outcry, Navid was executed secretly Saturday night.
‘A Vicious and Cruel Act’
Authorities did not allow his family to take his body for a proper funeral and burial. Instead, a video on social media showed Navid was buried in a hurry.
In one of his last audio messages from prison, Navid shared how much he loved wrestling and always wanted to make his mother proud. Fate, however, had a higher calling for him.
Navid said that in all the years he wrestled, he never met a cowardly opponent because wrestling is an inherently fair sport. But for the last two years, he and his family had been struggling against humanity’s most cowardly adversary: injustice.
Indeed, he reminded his supporters:
If I am executed, everyone should know that in the 21st century, despite all the funding and all the humanitarian organizations like the UN and the Security Council, an innocent person was executed even though he did all he could to fight and have his voice heard.
The news of Navid’s death sent shock waves around the world. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Navid’s execution “a vicious and cruel act… an outrageous assault on human dignity, even by the despicable standards of this regime.” Activists are calling international sports organizations to ban Iran from all international sports competitions and have set up a petition on the White House’s website.
Several European countries canceled Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s upcoming visits this week. Ultimately, however, neither a sports ban nor canceling the visit of a senior official goes far enough. In the words of Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Navid’s murder is a painful reminder that “the religious dictatorship ruling Iran cannot survive for even one day without suppression, execution, and torture.”
The Trump administration recognized the true evil nature of the Iranian regime and walked away from the 2015 nuclear deal eagerly arranged by the Obama-Biden administration and several European allies. While the deal did little to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions (Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched underground ballistic missiles test as recently as this July), the deal did hand over $100 billion to the Iranian regime, enabling the mullahs to fund menacing activities in the Middle East, causing chaos and suffering while expanding their influence.
Back in 2018, the Trump administration was heavily criticized for its decision to break away from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal while re-imposing sanctions against the regime. European allies including Germany and France vowed to preserve the deal. Former Secretary of State John Kerry even engaged in secret meetings with high-level Iranian officials and European diplomats, trying to salvage the deal without the Trump administration’s permission.
Standing Up to Iran
The facts on the ground from the last two years proved that the Trump administration was right to walk away from the Iran deal and instead apply maximum political and economic pressure on Tehran. Ilan Berman, senior VP of the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote the Trump administration’s approach to Iran has been “broadly successful, dramatically reversing the Iranian regime’s economic fortunes and generating renewed internal dissent against the clerical rule,” such as the protests that Navid participated in 2018.
Additionally, concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its state-sponsored terrorism in the Middle East have brought Israel and select Gulf nations closer. In recent weeks, with assistance from the Trump administration, the UAE and Bahrain signed historic peace treaties with Israel.
By murdering Navid Afkari in secret, the current Iranian regime again proves its cowardice and ruthless nature. Iran is not only a threat to peace in the Middle East but also a threat to the life and happiness of its people.
In the wake of Navid’s death, the rest of the world, especially our European allies, should join the United States to take concrete actions against the current Iran regime and support the Iranian people in their fight for freedom and democracy. As Rajavi reminds us, “Silence and inaction are tantamount to a green light to, and complicity with, the regime to continue its atrocities.”