European statements in condemnation of Iran’s execution of 27-year-old wrestler Navid Afkari have been met with a barrage of fire from the country’s hard-liners who typically view such criticism as interference in the Islamic Republic’s affairs.
Javan, the ultraconservative daily affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), took particular aim at Hans-Udo Muzel, Germany’s ambassador in Tehran, after the latter posted a chain of tweets in Persian, relaying his government’s message against the Islamic Republic’s “attempt to silence opposing voices.”
The paper called on Iran’s Foreign Ministry to immediately expel “the spy,” a label it also applied to all other Western ambassadors on missions in Iran. Javan highlighted what it called a campaign by “the Western propaganda machine” that sought to “politicize the execution.” It also attacked “the terrorist US president” Donald Trump who shed “crocodile tears” for the convict.
Afkari was arrested following a 2018 anti-government protest over livelihood grievances. He was later convicted of “waging war against God,” a charge that Iranian prosecutors have leveled against a large number of dissidents in the past. Afkari was also found guilty of stabbing a public employee to death.
The case grabbed widespread international attention, particularly after Afkari released audio files on how his confessions to murder had been coerced under devastating physical and mental torture. “They are simply looking for a neck to place the noose around,” Afkari famously said of his interrogators in one of the audio statements. Excerpts of the wrestler’s confessions were aired on state TV as part of a decadeslong tradition practiced by Iran’s security apparatus.
Despite the growing public outcry, Iran’s judiciary said Afkari had been hanged in a prison in the southern city of Shiraz on Monday “following due procedures and pressing demands from the victim’s family.” The wrestler’s body was buried amid tight security in his home village, where witnesses said his face bore obvious signs of torture and a broken nose, fueling rumors that he had indeed died under torture rather than actual execution.
The European statements slamming Afkari’s execution also infuriated Kayhan, a hard-line newspaper closely linked to the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While censoring the European stance, Kayhan also grabbed the chance to renew its attacks on President Hassan Rouhani’s government, whose “failure to respond to the European states’ violations in the nuclear deal has now only emboldened them to the point of interference in Iran’s domestic affairs.”
Iran’s judiciary, which is controlled by Ayatollah Khamenei and is constitutionally an independent branch from the elected government, also came out with harsh words for the Tehran-based European diplomats, advising them against acting as “mouthpieces who spread lies like opposition groups.”
Nevertheless, on the other end of the spectrum, the reaction from the European states was viewed as largely “hypocritical.” A statement from the French Foreign Ministry in condemnation was found by some activists to be a copy-and-paste version based on previous templates in which the date and name have simply been updated. Those statements, critics say, have fallen short of specifically slamming the perceived torture and forced confessions in Afkari’s case.
“The European Union is lying when it claims that the issue of human rights is on the agenda of its meetings with the Iranians. Talking from my experience with numerous European diplomats, I can bear testimony to the fact that they have often compromised human rights for the sake of political agreements,” tweeted Finland-based Iranian political scientist Kambiz Ghafouri.
Hamed Esmaeilion — an exiled Iranian novelist whose wife and daughter died on board the Ukraine international flight downed by a missile fired from Iran’s IRGC forces and who is currently leading an international campaign to bring Iranian authorities to justice over the tragedy — also issued a stinging statement against the German ambassador for acting too little, too late in support of the executed wrestler.
“Perhaps the rebuke at the Iranian Foreign Ministry taught your government a lesson,” Esmaeilion wrote after the ambassador was summoned by the Iranian Foreign Ministry. “When you do not stand up against a crime and [you] fail to take a due and transparent stance, the victim and the perpetrator both turn away from you,” he noted in a Facebook post.