FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo/File Photo

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Iranian wrestler and activist Navid Afkari was executed Saturday morning by the Iranian government despite worldwide pleas for his life to be spared. The 27-year old former championship wrestler was charged with murder by the Iranian regime for the 2018 killing of a water-utility worker in his hometown of Shiraz. Many of the people calling for Afkari’s release believe that he is innocent of the crime he was charged with, arguing that he was coerced into confessing due to torture. In an audio recording smuggled from prison, Afkari stated that he was innocent and that he was forced to confess to the murder after being tortured and his family was threatened and detained. 

There are reportedly two different narratives surrounding Afkari’s case, according to Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig. “Outside Iran we’re hearing that Navid Afkari was arrested due to these protests that took place in 2018 and alleged killing of a security officer. Inside Iran, it’s very different. Navid Afkari was arrested by police who identified him using CCTV footage,” he stated. Baig added that from the judiciary’s perspective, the arrest and conviction of Afkari “have nothing to do with the protests.”

Iranian officials released a tape of Afkari confessing to the murder of Hassan Torkaman, including images of Afkari making a stabbing gesture with his hands to indicate how he committed the crime. The segment featuring this footage was aired by Iranian state-controlled media with blurred court documents, listing Afkari’s motive as a “personal dispute.” Those skeptical of the validity of the confession tape point to similarities with hundreds of forced confessions. The U.N. recently unveiled that the Iranian government has been using torture as a means to coerce false confessions out of peaceful protestors.

The story is unfolding as news of a possible Iranian-led assassination attempt on a U.S. ambassador was released by the CIA. Following the intelligence directive known as “Duty to Warn,” which requires U.S. agencies to notify potential victims if they are in danger of being attacked, U.S. intelligence services have notified South African Ambassador Lana Marks of the plot to assassinate her in retaliation for the January killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. The Iranian Embassy in Pretoria is also implicated in the plot, and officials are speculating that her personal ties and friendship with President Trump are likely the reason she is being targeted for a political assassination.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari executed, says state media – Al Jazeera – 9/12/2020
Authorities accused Afkari, 27, of stabbing the water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz. Iran broadcast the wrestler’s televised confession last week. But Afkari said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists. His lawyer said there was no proof of his guilt. Iran’s judiciary, however, denied the torture claims.

Iran strongly protests European embassies’ interference – Tehran Times – 9/14/2020
“If you [the European embassies] do not know anything about righteousness, justice and fairness, at least respect diplomatic norms and avoid becoming a loudspeaker to spread lies like an opposition group,” he said during a meeting of the Judiciary’s high council on Monday. His comments came after a number of European embassies and envoys to Iran, including the German ambassador, made comments in reaction to the execution of 27-year-old Navid Afkari who had received a death sentence for murdering a citizen in 2018 in Shiraz.

European Union condemns execution of Iranian champion wrestler Navid Afkari – CNN – 9/14/2020
“It is deeply upsetting that the pleas of athletes from around the world and all the behind-the-scenes work of the IOC, together with the NOC of Iran, United World Wrestling and the National Iranian Wrestling Federation, did not achieve our goal.”

Would Iran really risk war with US by killing an ambassador? – The Jerusalem Post – 9/14/2020
Iran’s regime plotted against a US ambassador, Lana Marks, as it considered how to respond to the US killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, according to shocking reports on Sunday evening in an article at Politico.These are serious accusations. Iran would risk not only conflict with the US over an attack on a US ambassador, but would also risk international isolation.

Navid Afkari’s Murder Was a Message – Wall Street Journal – 9/13/2020
Though shocking, Afkari’s killing is nothing new in Iran, where the past 41 years tell a story replete with state murder. There have been countless Navids. A recently released Amnesty International report describes in distressing detail how the Islamic Republic killed and tortured so many of those who took part in the November 2019 protests, including children. The regime doesn’t limit its repression to Iran’s dissidents and protesters. It systematically targets their families—requiring relatives to pay for their lifeless bodies, often with a special charge for used bullets.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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