Iran has executed yet another athlete for anti-regime political activism. On Thursday (January 28), prominent boxer and coach Ali Mutairi was executed in Sheiban prison, bringing the tally to three in just the last four months alone. The sentence was carried out amid allegations that Mutairi was severely tortured and forced to confess killing two government-backed Basij militia members in 2018.
The 30-year-old boxer was charged with "moharebeh" meaning "war against god" and "corruption on Earth". That apart, Mutairi was also accused of being an ISIS member but his connection to the terrorist organization was never verified. The execution has been condemned by human rights activists and the United Nations.
"We strongly condemn the series of executions – at least 28 – since mid-December, including of people from minority groups. We urge the authorities to halt the imminent execution of Javid Dehghan, to review his and other death penalty cases in line with human rights law. We continue to engage with the authorities in Iran on the issues of executions and the death penalty," a UN spokesperson said in a statement to the Jerusalem Post.
Who is Ali Mutairi?
Mutairi was a national-level boxer who later became a professional boxing coach. While with sketchy and almost non-existent records, it is difficult to know his career statistics, he was widely admired as an athlete and a coach as according to human rights activists in Ahwaz.
However, it was his political activism that caught the government's eyes. In 2018, he was arrested for murdering Bashir Hamidi and Hassan Karun Bahmanshir. While he awaited trial, Mutairi was put in an intelligence agency's detention center and was subjected to brutal physical and mental torture. Mutairi along with two of his friends were forced to confess to killing the two.
Five months after his arrest, Mutairi was sentenced to death by Ahwaz's Revolutionary Court without allowing him to defend himself. As per human rights activists in the region, he was not even allowed a defense lawyer. While one substitute lawyer was subsequently allowed, he was not given access to accurate information related to the case due to heightened security measures. According to reports, his family and relatives rejected the charges against him and condemned the court proceedings.
According to Ahwazi Center for Human Rights, during the torture, Mutairi apparently told the interrogator: "I have nothing to lose. Tell me what to write and where to sign so that you can execute me." After a year at the detention center, he was transferred to the infamous Sheiban prison where he was put in solitary confinement while he awaited his death penalty.
In the meantime, his family appealed to the Branch 33 of the Iranian Supreme Court in Tehran against the death penalty but the judges upheld the verdict on July 14, 2019. Back in Sheiban prison, Mutairi and four others — Jassem Heydari, Ali Khasraji, Hossein Silawi and Ali Mojaddam — launched a hunger strike in protest of the torture, cruel treatment and denying family members permission to visit them.
They apparently sewed their lips on January 27, 2021, in protest of the death sentence and torture at the prison. His death was widely condemned. Global Athlete's Director-General, Rob Koehler, condemned the execution and urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to suspend the Iran National Olympic Committee. Global Athlete is an international advocacy group for Olympic athletes.
"The IOC must act now. Their silence has left them complicit. Their lack of action clearly indicates they favor stakeholders over athlete rights. The tragic recent execution of boxer Ali Mutairi is the third athlete in just 4 months that has been murdered by the Iranian government. The IOC must immediately suspend the Iran National Olympic Committee. They can no longer neglect their duty of care; athletes' lives are at stake," Koehler told the Jerusalem Post.
Before Mutairi, two other athletes were executed in four months. In September 2020, Navid Afkari, a champion wrestler, was executed for allegedly killing a Basij security guard. But as per human rights activists, Afkari was peacefully protesting. Earlier this month (January), another wrestler Mehdi Ali Hosseini was hanged on similar charges.