Edmonton’s Iranian community holds rally to protest execution of wrestler Navid Afkari

Nearly 100 members of Edmonton’s Iranian community organized at the Alberta Legislature on Saturday afternoon in support of Navid Afkair, a wrestler who was executed by the Iranian government on Sept. 12. 

Afkari was executed without notice for the murder of a security guard during an anti-government protest in 2018. The execution took place despite international outcry and appeals to spare his life. 

“He didn’t have a fair trial,” said Maryam Hejazi, an Iranian Edmontonian at the rally. 

“He was forced to confess under long lasting torture. He got executed without telling anyone, even his family.”

The community stood socially distant, holding signs that read, “Free political prisoners,” “Justice 4 Navid” and “Stop execution in Iran”. The community had set up a display board with pictures of the late 27-year-old wrestler and other political prisoners in Iran along with roses and candles laid out in front. 

Hejazi said the community had gathered together to ask the Canadian government to condemn the country for his death. She said his execution was a warning to keep others from speaking out for human rights in Iran.

“It’s a pawn to scare people and send them a message, ‘if you go out and protest, that’s what you get’,” she said. 

A display shows pictures of executed Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, alongside portraits of other political prisoners in Iran at the Alberta Legislature. (Scott Neufeld)

Payman Parseyan, a prominent member of the Iranian Edmonton community said there are many ways the government can do so.

“Our prime minister could put pressure on Iran, given the investigations of Flight 752 downings … Canada could push the international sports bodies to ban Iran from attending those sports,” he said. 

“And the federal government could take important steps to expedite for example international graduate students visa applications. These students aren’t just coming here for academic opportunities. They are coming here to be able to live their lives.”

Before Afkari’s execution, the international community had appealed to the Iranian government to spare his life. 

On Twitter, Canadian Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe posted a story about Afkari from an Iranian human rights website.

Wiebe told CBC News on Sept. 8 that although she didn’t know him personally, in the international wrestling community there are only a few degrees of separation.

“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 said. “When I hear the news of what’s happened to Navid Afkari, it breaks my heart.”

Following his death, she retweeted the United Nations Special Procedure’s Twitter post that condemned the wrestler’s execution. 

“Deeply disturbing that authorities appear to have used the death penalty against an athlete as a warning to its population in a climate of increasing social unrest,” the post read.

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