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Navid Afkari: executed Iranian wrestler still delivers ‘message of freedom’, mother says

In a rare interview with CNN Sport’s Don Riddell, Bahieh Namjoo says she is aware of the dangers that come with speaking out against the Iranian government, but insists she is determined to uphold the legacy of his son and to help his two other sons get out of prison.

“My motivation [for speaking out] is for my two sons who have now been imprisoned for a year in Adel Abad prison, “she said via a video call from Iran, on the eve of the first anniversary of Navid’s death.

“The situation has taken over our lives. We are emotionally and mentally exhausted. We have no peace. None of us.

“My daughter, myself, my children […] my two other children. We have no peace. I mean our days and nights have turned into dark nights. You understand? We don’t live at all. “

On September 12, 2020, Navid Afkari was hanged for a crime his family, friends and human rights activists say he did not commit.

According to the official version of events, he killed Hassan Torkman, a water company security employee, during a demonstration in Shiraz on August 2, 2018. His relatives admit that he attended the demonstration, claiming that ‘he was troubled by the discrimination against women and the poor.

But his supporters say his trial was devoid of any convincing evidence against him.

Afkari and his brother Vahid were arrested a month and a half later, on September 17, according to the UN, and another brother, Habib, was arrested later that year.

Afkari’s two brothers were found guilty of charges related to events during protests, and Vahid was considered “an accomplice in a murder”, according to Amnesty.

Navid was sentenced to death while Vahid and Habib were sentenced to more than 33 and 15 years in prison respectively. All were to be punished with 74 lashes each, according to Amnesty.

READ: Iranian woman fears punishment for not wearing ‘appropriate’ headscarf

Initially, Afkari confessed to the crime, but in court he retracted those words, arguing that he had been tortured during his interrogation and that a false confession had been forced on him.

Leaked audio clips from last year’s trial revealed that Afkari defiantly challenged the judge, inspiring other athletes to speak out against the Iranian government. An action group, United for Navid, is now working to keep its voice alive.

Iranian athletes say they often fear for their lives when speaking out on social and political issues, while sportswomen are sometimes barred from participating due to fundamentalists restricting women’s freedoms and forcing an interpretation of the law Islamic law which in turn restricts their ability to compete.

In Iran, political activists and their families are regularly intimidated, arrested and can even be executed. Afkari was one of at least 267 people executed in Iran in 2020.

The Iranian government has repeatedly stated that Afkari was not tortured and his confession was not forced. In June, CNN asked the government if it had received a fair trial but still has not received a response.

Namjoo says the support of other athletes has been a “good feeling” and says it’s as if Navid has been “brought back to life” as a result.

“Navid’s name is the message of freedom,” Namjoo adds. “Anyone who comes to Navid’s grave says the same thing: ‘Navid means freedom. “

“Many people come to pay homage [to Navid] and tell us these things: ‘Navid was born once in your house, but he was born again many times in the hearts of Iranians all over the world.’ “

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Navid Afkari: executed Iranian wrestler still delivers ‘message of freedom’, mother says

But after her youngest son is executed and her two other sons imprisoned in what she says is solitary confinement, Namjoo wants to act.

Many human rights groups have pleaded for better treatment of Iranians, but Namjoo says written statements alone will not save his family.

“So many authorities and human rights organizations have made so many statements saying that my children had committed no crime and nothing happened, it had no effect,” she said. .

“They killed my baby, innocent, they took his youth and killed him without telling us anything, without even knowing anything.

“Is there someone who can come to my aid and help me?” Is there anyone who will hear my voice? Can someone save my children?

“My son Habib’s three-year-old is waiting for him – is there anyone who can save him?

“Is there anyone in this world who will hear my voice?” Or is it all just talking?

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