Iranian Jiu-Jitsu Champion Rajabi Dedicates Win to Executed Wrestler Afkari

Sam Ehsan-Rajabi/KAYHAN LONDON.

By Kayhan Life Staff

Sam Ehsan-Rajabi, the winner of the gold medal at the World Master IBJJF Jiu-Jitsu Championship 2020, has dedicated his victory to Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old Iranian champion wrestler who was executed on Sept. 12 in Shiraz.

“As a member of the United for Navid campaign, I fought and won the world title for Navid today,” Mr. Rajabi tweeted on Dec. 18. “Navid’s legacy will endure. New generations of Navids will be born and grow until freedom comes. We, the athletes, will follow his example.”

The accompanying photograph to the tweet showed Rajabi standing on the podium and holding a T-shirt with an image of Mr. Afkari printed on it during the award ceremony held in Orlando, Florida, on Dec. 17.

The United for Navid campaign comprises Iranian activists and athletes who advocate banning the Islamic Republic from international sports competitions and events.

Mr. Afkari was charged with murdering a security guard at the Shiraz Water and Wastewater Management Company during the nationwide protests of 2018. He was hanged hurriedly and secretly without prior notice to him, his family, or his lawyer.

In another tweet posted on the same day, Rajabi included a photograph of himself wearing his medals and said: “These medals and not a rope should have been around Navid’s neck. The world must ban execution. I dedicate these medals to Navid’s honorable family, Iran, and freedom. Shame on the Islamic Republic, and shame on the supporters and enablers of this corrupt regime.”

Rajabi is a former member of the Iranian National Judo Team. He won the bronze medal in the Men’s Heavyweight (+100) at the 2009 Asian Judo Championships in Taipei.

Rajabi emigrated to the U.S. in 2010. Among his other wins are two gold medals at the Brazilian jiu-jitsu World Championships Master 1 (BJJ-M1) in California and gold medals at the NoGi World Champ Master 1 and the World Cup Judo.

A day before Rajabi dedicated his medal to Afkari, authorities in Iran reportedly prevented Navid’s family from placing a headstone on his grave and detained his father and brother for a few hours.

“Authorities have been pressuring Navid’s family for a while now, preventing them from placing a headstone on his grave,” an unnamed source has been quoted as saying. “His father and brother were arrested while cleaning his gravesite and getting it ready for a headstone.”

As part of the same court case, Navid Afkari’s brothers Vahid (37 years old) and Habib (29 years old) were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison. All three brothers were sentenced to 74 lashes.

Human rights activists are concerned about Vahid and Habib’s health and welfare, who have been in solitary confinement for the past few months.

International human rights organizations, United World Wrestling (UWW), the International Olympic Committee (IOC), well-known sporting personalities worldwide, and most European countries, including Britain, Sweden, and Germany, quickly condemned Afkari’s execution.

After Western media reported Afkari’s execution, the German Foreign Ministry issued a statement that said: “The federal government denounces this execution, which was carried out despite international protests and requests for suspension.”

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted: “Appalled by reports of the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari. Sweden and the rest of the EU consistently underline the right to due process and oppose the application of capital punishment under all circumstances, in all cases, without exception.”

“Deeply disturbed by Navid Afkari’s execution in Iran. It is unacceptable that the rule of law is ignored to silence voices of dissent. Navid’s two brothers, still in custody, now need our solidarity,” Germany’s Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Barbel Kofler tweeted.

“The Iranian regime’s execution of Navid Afkari is a cruel act, and we condemn it in the strongest terms. It is an outrageous assault on human dignity, even by the despicable standards of this regime. The Iranian people’s voices will not be silenced,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted. “Today, we stand with Navid Afkari’s family, and all Iranians, in mourning his death at the hands of this merciless regime.”

The West’s strong condemnation prompted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to cancel his European tour in September. He was scheduled to visit Paris, Rome, London, Berlin, Madrid, and possibly Brussels to hold talks with his European and British counterparts and Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Iran is the country that has carried out the world’s second-highest number of executions after China.

This article was translated and adapted from Persian by Fardine Hamidi.