Athletes who Took to the Streets to Gain Their Human Dignity, were Arrested, Tortured or Executed

“As a child, I always wished to win wrestling contests and make my mother happy and proud but what can I do that it didn’t happen. The wheel of fortune prevailed my sweats in wrestling and brought tears to my mother. Today, though, I’m happy that the same wheel of fortune turned again and now I’ve learned the true aspirations of humanity from you unique people. Aspirations far more valuable and eminent than the world wrestling”
This was Navid Afkari’s last voice message from prison in Shiraz. In another message, he stated that he was tortured to confess to accusations, which he explicitly refused to accept. Although Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, in a statement had asked for suspension of Navid's execution and a fair trial and condemned his execution in another statement, but the equivocal statements of John Coates, the then president of the Australian National Olympic Committee and the deputy head of IOC that was reflected in various media, practically closed the way in the International Olympic Committee to take preventive measures with regards to what goes on in Iran’s sports.
The arrest of opponents and getting forced confessions under torture, while they are deprived of having a lawyer of their choice, has become a constant tacky strategy in the Islamic Republic’s judicial system for elimination of its opponents.
Navid Afkari, an Iranian wrestler who participated in street protests against the regime, was executed on September 12, 2020, and the international sports community, including the UWW, treated it with indifference.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami was a 21-year-old young karate medalist and a participant in the anti-government demonstrations. According to allegations by the Islamic Republic’s judicial system, he and 15 others were involved in the death of a Basiji man. Karami was sentenced to death in a hasty trial without a lawyer and was executed in prison on January 7, 2023. The World Karate Federation’s deadly silence towards Karami's fate sparked a wave of disgust among coaches and athletes.

Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, who chose to be called Kian, meaning "land", was another liberalist opposing the Islamic regime in Iran. He was also convicted of involvement in the murder of an oppressive Basiji. After Karami, he was the second defendant, also hanged on January 7, 2023 together with Mohammad Mehdi Karami. Kian was a Kung fu instructor and only forty years old when executed.

Majid Reza Rahnavard was a wrestler who objected the ideology of the Islamic Republic regime. He was also sentenced to death on charge of clashes with two oppressive Basiji men that led to the death of the two, as alleged by the judicial system. Majid Rahnavard was also denied the right to a lawyer and was executed after a hasty trial. He was only twenty three years old and had tattooed the Iranian flag’s symbol, the Lion and Sun on his arm. In his will, Majid asked for no mourning or reciting of the Quran over his grave.

Mahbanu Khoshnoudi Kia is also among protesting athletes in Iran. She is 27 years old and a runner-up in Asian Women's Archery Championships. She came to the streets on December 9, 2022 during civil protests of the people of Kermanshah and lost her left eyesight the result of shootings by Basij forces affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In a statement on her Instagram page she said that in realization of her aspiration, she does not regret coming to the streets.

Amir Nasr Azadani is a former football player of Tabriz Tractor Sazi football team. He was arrested in the anti-government protests in Isfahan. Iran's judiciary has announced without reliable evidence and proofs that Amir Nasr Azadani was involved in the murder of a police force colonel and two Basiji men. He is also accused of membership in a an armed network that was active in threatening the country’s national security. After being sentenced to 26 years in prison, Amir Nasr Azadani said in a voice message, broadcast by CNN: “voice to my friends and football teammates about my conditions so that one day we can be together again. I hope in God first and then in you who are outside.”

Eshraq Najafabadi is an Iranian athlete and a former member of the Iranian national cycling team. During the Iranian people’s revolutionary uprising, he was arrested along with Khashayar Nikbakht, Maryam Sadaghiani, Hessam Mousavi and Amir Arslan Mahdavi, all Iranian cycling athletes. A video of him and four of his friends in forced confessions was broadcast by Islamic Republic affiliated media, in which they have been accused of attempts to plan bombing attacks in Shiraz.

Mohammad Ahmadzadeh, the captain of Iran's National Beach Football team together with Saeed Piramoon and Mostafa Kiani, supported the Iranian people’s revolutionary uprising and displayed a symbolic gesture of cutting his hair in the Intercontinental Cup in the UAE. He was later expelled from the national team. He wrote on his Instagram page: “… of course,I am happy that I made the best choice and stood by my people.”

Elnaz Rekabi, a brave sport climber who refused to wear the Islamic hijab in the Asian competitions in solidarity with Iranian women protestors. On October 16, 2022, after she participated in the Asian championships in South Korea without a hijab, the security police of the national sport climbing team (the ideological police that accompanies national teams of the Islamic Republic of Iran in overseas competitions) took Elnaz under special security measures to the Iranian embassy in Seoul to bring her back to Tehran on the first flight the next day. It was said that her passport and mobile phone were seized. Meanwhile, his brother was detained by the security forces to make Elnaz return to Iran. When she was flying to Iran, a story published on her Instagram, confirmed the athlete has return to Iran, also stating that her hijab fell off inadvertently. Although Thomas Bach, the head of the International Olympic Committee, had a video call with Elnaz to make sure of her health after her transfer to Iran, but at the same time, her family was also put under pressure and the Iranian Sport Climbing Federation that had a guarantee check from Elnaz for 10 billion Rials, was also a potential threat.

Khaled Pirzadeh, the Iranian bodybuilding champion and a supporter of monarchy, was arrested by IRGC agents on May 26, 2019 and sentenced to seven years in prison in Tehran Revolutionary Court led by justice Moghiseh, on charges of "gathering crowds and conspiracy in disrupting the country’s security" and "insulting the Leader". The verdict was again confirmed in the court of appeals. In December 2022, in an audio file from prison, addressing Javaid Rahman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, he explained that he became crippled and on a wheelchair as a result of torture and lost his urinary control. Khaled Pirzadeh was released from prison and admitted to hospital because of the severity of his injuries.

Voria Ghafouri, the former captain of Esteghlal football team (Taj), along with Ali Daei and Ali Karimi, is a popular figure among Iranian people. He was arrested during the revolutionary uprising of the Iranian people that began with the death of Mahsa Amini, and released on bail after a while. Voria Ghafouri's reaction to the banning of women into sports stadiums and the self-immolation of Sahar Khoyayari, was admired by many human rights activists. He also condemned the downing of the Ukrainian airplane by the IRGC missiles and expressed condolences to the families of the victims, accusing the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting of spreading lies; and demanded its perpetrators to be brought to justice. His position on Irans socio-political situation led to his removal from national, Esteghlal and Foulad teams.

Saleh Mirhashmi, a karate coach was arrested on November 16, 2022 street protests of Isfahan and sentenced to death on January 9, 2023 by the Isfahan Revolutionary Court on charge of Moharebeh (waging war against God and state). Denying the shooting accusation, he told the court that he did not shoot any officer and had no possession of a weapon on the day of the incident. In the videos released in the last two months also, there are no signs of shooting or carrying weapons. After Saleh Mirhashmi was arrested, the security forces have repeatedly searched his house for evidence. In the recently released audio file, he tells his mother on a call from prison that he had no role in the incident and did not even throw a firecracker. He states that other defendants testifying against him in court, later told him that they were threatened to confess against him.

Borhan Eliasi, a Chinese boxing (Sanda) athlete, took to the streets in Javanrood in protest to the policies of the Iranian regime in the clamp down of protesters and was killed at gun point by the repressive forces. He was only 22 years old.

Mohammad Ghaemifar, the goalkeeper of Omid football team of Jundishapour, was targeted by the repressive forces of the Islamic Republic on October 22, 2022, in a dead-end alley in Dezful. The officers shot him in the head from the back. Over 40 pellets were shot to his skull and neck and he fell to the ground. He died fifteen days later in the hospital.

SportsEmic Editorial Team – March 2023