September 9, 2020 | The Jerusalem Post

Azerbaijan MP tells ‘Post’ Iran must not execute wrestler

First politician from majority Shi’ite majority country to come out against Iran’s regime.
September 9, 2020 | The Jerusalem Post

Azerbaijan MP tells ‘Post’ Iran must not execute wrestler

First politician from majority Shi’ite majority country to come out against Iran’s regime.

In the first political statement from a majority Shi’ite country that borders the Islamic Republic of Iran, an important Azerbaijan MP on Wednesday told The Jerusalem Post that Tehran’s rulers should not execute the champion wrestler Navid Afkari for his peaceful protest against regime corruption.

“I’m against death penalties and our country [is] as member of the Council of Europe join European countries on this issue. Not only this poor wrestler and his brothers are victims of totalitarian regime hundreds of Azerbaijanis executed because they wanted [to]study their own language. I’m joining all of you and declaring no death penalty for Navid Afkri,” wrote MP Asim Mollazade, chairman of the Democratic Reforms Party.

He added that “Every day, Iran delivers arms to Armenia, which killed innocent civil people.”

Mollazade now joins British, American and German politicians and parties who have urged Iran’s regime to not move forward with the execution of Afkari. Two of Afkari’s brothers were also arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms and whippings for protesting against the Iranian regime in 2018.

Mollazade’s statement is significant because Azerbaijan is a state like Iran where the majority religion is Shi’ite Islam and wrestling is a national pastime.

Iran’s regime charged Afkari with murder and imposed two death sentences on him.

Mollazade’s party is an opposition party in the parliament. He is member of the friendship group with the Knesset and a member of the European friends of Israel.

US Congressman Markwayne Mullin from Oklahoma tweeted about Afkari that “This man should not be executed for peacefully protesting an authoritarian regime. I encourage the wrestling community around the world to stand up for democracy and join me in calling for his release.”

Afkari participated in a peaceful protest against the Iranian government in 2018 due to the worsening economic situation. Afkari, his lawyer and his family said he was tortured by the Iranian authorities to confess to a crime he did not carry out. The New York Times headlined its Wednesday article: “As a Wrestler Faces Execution in Iran, World Sports Groups Galvanize.”

The Times wrote “Though Mr. Afkari has not competed in the Olympics, many see his case as a test for the International Olympic Committee, which they say should take action against Iran if the execution goes forward. The organization, they say, has an obligation to protect athletes at all levels.”

Mark Adams, a spokesman for the IOC, told the Times that it is“in constant contact” with Iranian Olympic officials and the Iranian Wrestling Federation, adding that they“doing their utmost to facilitate a solution.”

J’den Cox, a two time world champion freestyle wrestler and Olympic bronze medalist, posted a video of himself arguing against the execution on his Twitter account.

Canadian Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe, who posted a tweet against the Afkari execution, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that “Wrestling is a truly global sport and I’ve been very fortunate to have many friends who were born in Iran or competed for Iran.” She added that “When I hear the news of what’s happened to Navid Afkari, it breaks my heart.”

Thomas Gilman, a 2017 world silver medalist wrestler and two time world team member for the USA, wrote on Twitter: “I have been fortunate enough to compete in Iran. Some of the most hospitable people I have met on this planet were in Tehran. Please save Navid Afkari! Spare this champion Wrestler from execution!”

Victoria Anthony, a two time wrestling world team member, tweeted: “Culturally Iranians are truly some of the most open-hearted people I’ve ever met. Its always been my dream to wrestle in Iran bc of the unending kindness & hospitality I’ve experienced from Iranian people. #SaveNavidAfkari, spare the life of this champion Wrestler!”

The three time German Greco-Roman wrestling world champion Frank Stäbler posted a video opposing Navid’s execution. Afkari is also a decorated Greco-Roman wrestler.

After the Post sent numerous press queries to the German Green Party, the left-wing party issued a statement that Afkari’s execution must be prevented. Critics have accused the German Green Party over the years of showing sympathy for the mullah regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Also weighing in on the crisis is Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as the Iron Sheik, a retired amateur and professional wrestler from Tehran. Vaziri has a decorated career as an amateur wrestler, having competed for a spot on the Iranian Olympic wrestling team in 1968 before eventually moving to the US, where he won gold as the Amateur Athletic Union champion in 1971, and later worked as assistant coach for the US wrestling team at the 1972 Olympics.

But before moving to the US, Vaziri also served in the Iranian army, and was even a bodyguard for the shah for several years.

Vaziri’s account posted a tweet on September 7, tweeting the Post‘s article on Navid Afkari with the message: “THIS BREAK MY HEART. THE NAVID AFKARI I LOVE YOU FOREVER.”

On Wednesday, he then tweeted “BROTHERS AND THE SISTERS PLEASE SHARE AND HELP SAVE IRANIAN BROTHER AND EXCELLENT WRESTLER,” before using the hashtag #SaveNavidAfkari.

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

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