MEK : Iranian Champion Mohammad Javad Vafaei, Sentenced to Death
Following the big demonstrations in Iran in 2019, Vafaie was arrested and put to death on charges of supporting Iran’s leading opposition party, People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI / MEK Iran), as well as “corruption on earth,” a fabrication used by the ruling theocracy to legitimize its public executions. Vafaie, however, is not the first detained athlete-protester to face the death penalty. Despite international calls to avoid his execution, Iran’s wrestling champion Navid Afkari was hanged on September 12, 2021.
Ghasemi wrestling champion earned gold in Asian killed in 2011
Mohsen Ghasemi, another wrestling champion, died after nearly two years in a coma. In 2011, Ghasemi earned a gold medal in Asian wrestling in the 74 kg division. At a rehabilitation camp at Bojnourd, he was brutally beaten by regime criminals. In a separate case, the Zahedan Criminal Court condemned Yazdan Mirzaei, a gold medalist in wushu, to death on drug-related allegations. He has categorically repudiated these false accusations.
The medieval theocracy has had no qualms about murdering anyone deemed a threat to its survival since taking power, and athletes are no exception. In 1988, the authorities executed 30,000 political detainees, 90% of whom were MEK members. Several victims were among them, including Foroozan Abdi of the Iranian women’s national volleyball team and Mahshid Razaghi of the Iranian national soccer squad.
Habib Khabiri, the captain of Iran’s national soccer executed in 1982
Habib Khabiri, the popular captain of Iran’s national soccer team during the 1982 World Cup in Argentina and a role model for many Iranian teenagers, was executed by the Iranian regime in 1982. Khabiri had steadfastly refused to condemn the MEK. Navid Afkari remarked before his execution that the mullahs were “searching for a neck for their rope,” revealing the regime’s need to scare Iran’s restive people.
Torture and killings are not the only methods of oppressing and mistreating athletes. Many Iranian national heroes are compelled to become street vendors to make a modest livelihood as a result of the regime’s systematic corruption, inefficiency, and mismanagement. The narrative of Masoud Rastegar’s difficult life was released by Iran’s state media in November 2021. Rastegar, a deaf judoka on the national team who earned a bronze medal at the 2017 Paralympics in Turkey, gathers garbage to help support his family.
“Every time we go to the sports office and ask for a handful of training gear, they tell they don’t have any,” he told the state-run Apart web TV. “The same officials received me at the championship and put up a banner and took a photo under it,” he added.
Mohsen Madhani, another wrestling champion, was beaten by regime forces for street vending. In a video shared on social media in November 2020, he claimed, “An athlete and a world champion don’t deserve to be a street seller.”
Ellis Coleman (USA) dec. Mohsen Ghasemi (IRI) 2nd repechage at 66 kg Greco-Roman at Junior Worlds.