Iran Human RightsIran Denies Sentencing Athlete to Death While UN Moves...

Iran Denies Sentencing Athlete to Death While UN Moves Ahead With Human Rights Probe

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Iranian officials denied on Wednesday that a death sentence had been issued in the case against Amir Nasr Azadani, a 26-year-old professional soccer player who has reportedly taken part in the protests that have been taking place nationwide for the past three months. Azadani is one of five individuals accused of causing the deaths of three members of Iranian security forces, though the reports of his death sentence stem from the much vaguer charge of “enmity against God”. That same charge was used to justify the first two executions of protesters earlier this month, and since then there has been much international discussion about the prospect of many more hangings to come.

Iranian state media has deliberately fueled concern by publishing the names of a number of defendants who have been either indicted or convicted on capital charges. This makes the regime’s denials regarding Azadani seem all the more unusual. One might expect that even if he had not actually received a capital sentence, the regime would not wish to actively discourage the perception that he had. On the other hand, the events of recent weeks have provided authorities with ample reason to be wary of public backlash, both at home and abroad, against the arrest, abuse, and killing of prominent individuals.

Warnings about Azadani’s prospective execution come in the wake of numerous statements of support for the well-known Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti, whose crime appears to be only expressing support for protesters on social media. Alidoosti, 38, specifically highlighted the regime’s first execution of a protester in one post about a week prior to her arrest. “His name was Mohsen Shekari,” she wrote, adding, “Every international organization who is watching this bloodshed and not taking action, is a disgrace to humanity.”

Alidoosti’s case has received breathless attention from various well-known Iranian expatriates and ethnic Iranians throughout the world. On Tuesday, Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, who has worked with Alidoosti on multiple films, took to Instagram to demand her release from prison. Explaining that “she is in prison for her rightful support of her fellow countrymen and her opposition to the unjust sentences being issued,” Farhadi went on to declare, “If showing such support is a crime, then tens of millions of people of this land are criminals.”

Naturally, much of the international reporting on the actress’s arrest emphasizes that she is only one of many celebrities and public personalities to be detained due to supporting the protests. This in turn recalls attention to those, like Azadani, who may be facing even more serious and immediate consequences than Alidoosti, who stands accused of “spreading falsehoods” because claims in her online posts were allegedly not supported by relevant “documents”.

While she and similar arrestees are likely to face serious mistreatment in Iranian detention centers, Azadani’s charge of “enmity against God” makes him a prospective candidate for execution at any moment, regardless of the regime’s public denials.

Those denials reportedly emerged in response to an appeal by Colombian President Gustavo Petro to spare his life. The Iranian embassy in Colombia issued a statement condemning “false news about the death sentence of an Iranian soccer player,” but it is unclear whether any other regime institution or official issued a prior statement in response to identical appeals from the likes of the International Federation of Professional Footballers’ Associations.

This inconsistency may lend support to the perception that Wednesday’s denials were motivated by something other than an earnest desire to correct the record. The embassy’s statement arguably gives the impression that Iran’s human rights situation is not as serious as some of the regime’s adversaries have argued. This narrative, along with the underlying distraction brought on by reports of the sudden denial, may have been especially important to Tehran on Wednesday, when the United Nations Human Rights Council announced three appointments to the head of a fact-finding mission regarding the regime’s crackdown on protests.

The three investigators, all women, have been identified as Bangladesh Supreme Court lawyer Sara Hossain, Pakistani law professor Shaheen Sardar Ali, and rights activist Viviana Krsticevic. The appointments come just under a month after the Council voted to create the fact-finding mission, in response to a proposal put forward by Germany and Iceland, with support from 25 other countries.

Tehran, unsurprisingly, rejected this vote and the subsequent vote to remove the Islamic Republic from the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women, as “illegal” and politically biased. However, the regime has provided no meaningful rebuttal to accounts of mass shootings and mass arrests of protesters, torture and rape in custody, obstruction of medical care, and denial of due process. Instead, it has largely relied on its own so-called human rights monitoring office to issue blanket denials while also vaguely accusing Iran’s adversaries of comparable human rights abuses.

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