Two jailed brothers of executed Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari have been tortured and isolated in Iranian prisons as punishment for asking guards about the fate of their younger sibling, according to a new report.
The execution of Afkari, 27, in secret in September 2020, sparked worldwide anger but his two elder brothers remain locked up after being tortured and denied proper medical care.
The champion wrestler was convicted of murdering an Iranian security guard during anti-government protests but his supporters say a confession was obtained under duress. The execution prompted the US to impose sanctions on the Iranian judiciary while Germany cancelled a visit by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
But the prison abuse has continued for his two surviving brothers, who were both arrested after the 2018 protests. Details of the brothers’ grim ordeals have been detailed in a 45-page report by rights group Amnesty International, which is based on court documents, statements, medical records and interviews.
The organisation has called on the pair to be released from Adelabad prison in Shiraz, Fars province, and officials responsible for their torture to be prosecuted.
Vahid Afkari, 36, is serving more than 33 years in prison on charges including accessory to murder, while his younger brother Habib, 29, was jailed for more than 15 years for a range of national security offences after multiple “grossly unfair” trials.
The continued suffering of the Afkari brothers is “reflective of the protracted torture epidemic in Iran”, with inmates routinely subjected to beatings, electric shocks, mock executions, sexual violence and the deliberate withholding of medical care, said Amnesty International.
Vahid twice tried to commit suicide within six months during the sustained campaign of torture – prompting the authorities to end family visits as a “punishment”, according to the report.
Vahid and Navid Afkari were arrested by seven police agents at their home in Shiraz in September 2018 after joining anti-regime protests. Habib was arrested three months later as he tried to find out what had happened to them.
Vahid said that he had been repeatedly tortured to make incriminating statements against himself and Navid. He was punched, kicked and beaten with sticks and cables while he was blindfolded.
In statements seen by the rights group, Vahid said his captors threatened to imprison or kill family members and sexually assault his mother and sister unless he confessed. He was brought before a prosecutor seven months after his arrest.
“I was threatened that if I did not confess, my mother would be arrested and I would never see my brothers [alive] again”, he said.
The demand led to his second suicide attempt in April 2019 after overdosing on sleeping pills. He was taken to hospital but was sent back to prison against the warnings of medical professionals, according to his hospital notes.
The three brothers were held separately as officials sought to put pressure on them by detailing what was happening to the others.
On one occasion, Navid was brought to a cell where Habib was being tortured and forced to watch. His written account of what happened corroborated Habib’s evidence that he was chained to a chair while a plastic sheet was wound around his head to try to extract a confession.
Navid later wrote that “right after seeing this scene, I started crying and begging. I wanted to hit my head against a wall and kill myself”.
The rights group's release of the dossier comes as it seeks to persuade the UN Human Rights Council to put pressure on Iran over its prisons.
The case of the Afkari brothers is just the latest put forward before the council. Staff of the BBC's Persian service, based in London, say they had been targeted with death threats, while campaigners seeking justice for Iran’s 1988 prison massacres are seeking a UN inquiry into responsibility for the deaths of thousands of anti-regime inmates.