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Source: IranWire

Aug 5, 2023

Vafaei Sani, the Iranian Boxing Champion Sentenced to Death


Lawyer Babak Paknia confirmed on July 31 that a court has confirmed the death sentence against Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani, a 27-year-old boxer arrested for taking part in nationwide unrest in November 2019.

Paknia said that Branch 4 of the Mashhad Revolutionary Court issued the death sentence in first instance, but the Supreme Court overturned the ruling and sent the case back to court for retrial.

Last month, Branch 2 of the Revolutionary Court maintained the death penalty.Paknia said he planned to file an appeal against that judgment.

Who Is Vafaei Sani?

He was arrested in Mashhad in March 2020 for participating in protests sparked by a governmental decision to raise gasoline prices and in demonstrations over the January 2020 downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian forces.

He was aged 23. In the north-eastern city, Vafaei Sani holds a reputation as a boxing champion. He won the provincial title at both the elementary and adult levels.

Hossein Souri, the former president of the national boxing federation who moved to Spain in November 2022 in support of anti-government protests that swept Iran for months, confirmed that Vafaei Sani was a professional boxer. 

"I knew him as the boxing champion of the province in the past years. The young man showed great promise, although he was not invited to the national team camps before his arrest," Souri said. 

Vafaei Sani had been actively involved in coaching boxing at various clubs since the age of 21 and dedicated part of his time to teaching boxing and self-defense to working children, sources in Mashhad told IranWire.

What Do We Know about the Verdict?

Vafaei Sani was arrested by agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and endured 65 days of both physical and mental torture.On January 9, 2022, Branch 4 of the Mashhad Revolutionary Court charged him with "corruption on Earth," according to the Iranian Human Rights Center.

The boxer was accused of "incitement and deliberate destruction of government buildings" and "connections with the People's Mojahedin Organization," an opposition group. The defendant denied the accusations.

The court presided over by Judge Hadi Mansouri subsequently sentenced him to death.

The European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada have sanctioned Mansouri for his involvement in serious human rights violations.His infamous rulings also include the death sentence pronounced against a protester named Mojidreza Rahnavard and an 18-year prison term against political activist Fatemeh Sepehri. 

In December 2022, Branch 9 of the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Vafaei Sani and sent the case back to court for a new judgment.Finally, on July 24, Branch 2 of the Mashhad Revolutionary Court upheld the death sentence.

A Government that Executes AthletesIn recent years, the Islamic Republic carried out executions against athletes such as Navid Afkari. He was executed on September 12, 2020, for his alleged involvement in the murder of a security officer during the 2018 protests. 

The International Olympic Committee and world sports federations issued statements condemning the execution.Mohammed Mahdi Karmi, a holder of more than 10 karate championship titles and a national runner-up, was executed on January 7, 2023, over the killing of a member of the paramilitary Basij force during nationwide protests. 

Karmi was handed the death penalty after repeatedly denying the charges against him and claiming to have been coerced into false confessions. Other Iranian athletes have lost their lives at the hands of security forces during protests. 

Ali Mozafari of the Saipa volleyball club was shot and killed during protests in the city of Qochan on September 21, 2022. 

Mohammed Ghaemifar, the goalkeeper of a football club in the southern city of Dezful, was hit by more than 40 pellets after being shot from behind. He survived for 15 days before succumbing to his injuries.

Ehsan Ghasemifar, a 32-year-old bodybuilder from Karaj, near Tehran, won multiple provincial and national championships and also competed internationally. 

Ghasemifar had gone out shopping while participating in a live Instagram program when he was surrounded by government forces. 

A few hours later, the athlete’s lifeless body was handed over to his family, which was pressured by security agencies to say he had succumbed to a "heart attack."

Despite the alarming number of executions and murders perpetrated by the government, international sports organizations have remained silent on human rights violations against Iranian athletes. 

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