Iranian Greco-Roman wrestler Mohammad Ali Geraei competed today at the 2022 Tokyo Olympics, coming a respectable fourth after Japan’s Shohei Yabiku – and next in line for the bronze medal – in the men’s 77kg event.

The contest came after a singularly brutal year for the 27-year-old athlete, whose friend and fellow Shirazi wrestler Navid Afkari was executed last September. A source close to Alireza Dabir, the former president of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, told IranWire that Geraei was harassed, jailed and interrogated both before and Navid was killed.

“The Geraei brothers were the first to react to the news that Navid Afkari had been arrested [in September 2018] and could face execution.

“Both Mohammad Ali and Mohammad Reza Geraei wrote about Navid on their Instagram pages. They posted pictures of him and asked God to help him. We didn’t know at the time, but it transpires the Intelligence Ministry called them, threatened them and ordered them to remove the posts.

“The next day, Iranian media published an interview with Mohammad Ali in which he said he ‘would have not said those things’ had he known that Navid had committed murder.”

Two and a half years ago, young Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari and his two brothers, Vahid and Habib, were arrested after taking part in anti-government protests. Navid was charged with murdering a security guard, tortured into giving a confession and hanged without warning in Adelabad Prison, in contravention of Iranian law.

Despite all official efforts to contain the news, the execution sent shockwaves through Iranian society and the international community, including sporting organizations. Before and after Navid’s death, the security agencies ordered Iran’s Wrestling Federation not to raise the matter in public, and to warn its wrestlers and coaches off discussing it.

When the two death sentences handed down to Navid Afkari first came to light in August, a reporter for media close to Iran’s judiciary told IranWire they had known about his death sentence since the spring, but were told in no uncertain terms not to publish any news about the verdict. “Alireza Dabir had told his people that this subject was top secret,” they said.

Also in August, an ex-official from the Wrestling Federation told IranWire that in April 2020, immediately after learning about Afkari’s possible execution, several well-known figures in Iranian wrestling – including ex-president Rasoul Khadem – tried to meet with then-Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi to ask for clemency. The request was denied.

The same source IranWire’s at the Wrestling Federation says Mohammad Ali Geraei was singled out for punishment for reacting to the news. “Early on, before Navid was executed,” they said, “we’d heard nothing from the Geraei brothers for a few days.

“We knew that Mohammad Ali was a close, old friend of the Afkari family. Then three days after Navid was executed, Alireza Dabir told us Mohammad Ali had been arrested. At the time we didn’t know if it was by the Intelligence Ministry, the public prosecutor or the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Unit.”

Alireza Dabir and Reza Salehi Amiri, the president of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, had then frantically called around to try to establish Geraei’s whereabouts. “I don’t want to make a hero of either of them,” the source said, “but they did everything in their power to have Mohammad Ali released. The pressure from international organizations was extreme and if they got wind of the news, Iran’s wrestling team could have been suspended.”

Sports Minister Masoud Soltanifar, they added, did not so much as lift a finger at the time. “He and his deputies wouldn’t even return Alireza Dabir’s calls.”

All of this took place in mid-September 2020, after which Geraei was eventually released. “I personally thought he would leave wrestling,” the ex-official said. “Imagine: he had to deal with all this just 10 months before the Olympics. The Federation did all they could to make it possible for him to return.”

The Scandal of Navid Afkari’s Killing

Navid Afkari was born on July 22, 1993 in Shiraz, the capital of Fars Province. Between 2004 and 2006 he was the Greco-Roman wrestling champion in his city. After finishing high school he opted not to continue his education and began working as a construction worker, then seeing wrestling as a personal, not professional, interest.

After five years, his coaches succeeded in returning him to the mat. Between 2016 and 2018 Navid not only won the championship in his province but was also accepted to compete for the National Wrestling Team. He lost in the recruitment stage but was accepted as a sparring partner for Mohammad Ali Geraei in Shiraz.

He and his brothers were arrested in 2018 after taking part in nationwide protests. They were brutally tortured in prison and forced to give confessions, which all three later denied, saying the statements had been coerced.

Navid Afkari received two death sentences: one for murdering a government agent during the protests of summer 2018, for which no evidence was ever put forward in public, and on the nebulous charge of “corruption on earth”. In audio recordings leaked after his execution, Navid Afkari clearly stated he had been made to confess under torture.

Navid’s two brothers, Vahid and Habib, were also sentenced, respectively, to 54 years and six months in prison and 74 lashes and 27 years and three months in prison and 74 lashes. The pair are still behind bars today.

Source » trackpersia