Nearly 100 Iranian Canadians gathered in Toronto’s Mel Lastman Square on Sept. 14 to condemn the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari in Iran.
The execution was an act intended to crush the growing resistance to Iran’s theocratic leadership, demonstrators said.
Choosing to wave the Persian empire flag, rather than Iran’s, and chanting “down with Islamic regimes,” they hailed the champion wrestler as a hero and freedom fighter, while also reciting the names of those who have been killed for protesting the Iranian government.
Held in Toronto’s Willowdale neighbourhood, which has one of the city’s largest Iranian communities, the demonstration was organized by Middle East Human Rights Centre and the International Centre For Human Rights. It has drawn support from some Canadians, including a member of parliament who joined in.
“Everyone here in Canada wants the government to know how terrible the human rights record of the Islamic Republic is,” said local Liberal MP Ali Ehassai, who was originally from Iran.
“Everyone is very much concerned about the terrible reports that we have been hearing for months,” Ehassai said. “Everyday there is terrible news. Obviously there is some comfort in getting together and marking these terrible occasions together.”
Those who have called for the sentence of the 27-year-old wrestler not to be carried out include U.S president Donald Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the World Players Association and several UFC fighters.
Afkari was arrested during an anti-government protest in 2018, he was later charged and sentenced for the murder of a security guard that was killed during one of the country’s outbreak of protests that left dozens of protestors dead. Authorities in Iran said Afkari had confessed to these crimes.
Salman Sia, one of the organizers of the event and a former political prisoner from Iran, said the demonstration was the least he could do for Afkari and the people of Iran.
“The brutal regime in Iran murdered Navid Afkari because he protested,” Sia said. “He was innocent and we should show some unity and solidarity to condemn this brutal act, this event was the minimum we can do.”
Sia said he calls Afkari’s death a murder and not an execution because “we don’t know if this was an execution or they murdered him under torture.”
According to Sia, there is a recording circulating on the internet from a phone conversation Afkari had from prison, in which he says his confession was produced under torture.
In the recording Afkari said, “I am addressing any person that believes in humanity and is honourable.… If I am executed you should all know that an innocent human being that fought hard to have his voice heard was executed.”
Sia believes Canada should take a stronger stance against Iran because of it’s human rights violations.
“Canada is not doing enough to prevent unjust executions and has been silent about Afkari’s murder,” Sia said.
Ehassai said he believes Canada is doing all it can.
“Since 2006 we have always focused on Iran’s human rights record,” Ehassai said. “We work very closely with U.N agencies to make sure they don’t turn a blind eye to the terrible things that are happening,” said.