Iran airs televised ‘confession’ of wrestler after Trump tweet

Supreme Court confirmed that Navid Akfari would receive two death sentences, six and a half years in jail and 74 lashes, according to Persian-language broadcaster Iran International. (Social media)
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Updated 06 September 2020

Iran airs televised ‘confession’ of wrestler after Trump tweet

  • Afkari has drawn the attention of a social media campaign that portrays him and his brothers as victims in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018

DUBAI: Iran has broadcast the televised confession of a wrestler facing the death penalty after a tweet from President Donald Trump criticizing the case, a segment that resembled hundreds of other suspected coerced confessions aired over the last decade in the Islamic Republic.
The case of 27-year-old Navid Afkari has drawn the attention of a social media campaign that portrays him and his brothers as victims targeted over participating in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018. The television segment and authorities accuse Afkari of stabbing a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz amid the unrest.
Afkari’s case has drawn international attention and revived a demand inside the country that Iran, one of the world’s top executioners, stop carrying out the death penalty. Even imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, herself nearly a month into a hunger strike over conditions at Tehran’s Evin prison amid the coronavirus pandemic, has passed word that she supports Afkari.
Afkari and his brothers were employed as construction workers in Shiraz, a city some 680 kilometers (420 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. All three took part in demonstrations in 2018 that began in anger over Iran’s cratering economy and spiraled into direct calls for the overthrow Iran’s theocracy. Such unrest has continued sporadically in Iran in the time since, with authorities arresting thousands of people.
Afkari had local fame as a wrestler, a popular sport in Iran. A provincial court in Shiraz sentenced Afkari to death and his brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, over the slaying.
Afkari’s case has drawn the attention of an online campaign that’s included a video statement from Dana White, the president of the mixed martial arts competition called the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“He went to a peaceful protest in Iran and he’s going to be executed for that,” White said in a video Friday. “He’s one of us. He could be any of my fighters.”
White said he spoke to Trump, who had earlier tweeted out his own concern about Afkari’s case.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Trump wrote Friday. “Thank you!”
Trump has imposed crushing sanctions on Iran after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers. That decision led to Iran breaking all the limits of the deal, as well as a series of attacks across the Mideast that America has blamed on Tehran.
Later Saturday night, Iran responded to Trump’s tweet with a nearly 11-minute state TV package on Afkari. It included the weeping parents of the slain water company employee, Hassan Torkaman. The package also showed footage of Afkari on the back of a motorbike, saying he had stabbed Torkaman in the back, without explaining why he allegedly carried out the assault.
The state TV segment showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a “personal dispute,” without elaborating. It said Afkari’s cellphone had been in the area. It showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.
The footage resembled what one report has described as the at-least 355 coerced confessions aired by Iranian state television over the last decade. Those supporting Afkari also have accused police of torturing a confession out of him after finding the surveillance footage.
That comes after a United Nations special rapporteur in a recent report wrote about a “widespread pattern of officials using torture to extract false confessions” from those protesting Iran’s government.
“Three separate detainees from the cities of Tehran, Tabriz and Ahvaz all made similar allegations that interrogators physically assaulted them, including by hand, with batons and with electric shocks, and that interrogators tried to force them to confess that entities outside the Islamic Republic of Iran had incited the protests,” special rapporteur Javaid Rehman wrote.
That report noted Iran’s government told him the “Iranian constitution and penal code forbids and criminalizes torture.” Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment over Afkari’s case.
The speed at which Iran broadcast Afkari’s televised confession may signal it intends to execute him. Trump earlier this year tweeted about three other men due to be executed who later won a retrial. That has yet to happen in Afkari’s case, even as it has renewed a hashtag advocacy campaign in Farsi telling Iran (hashtag)donotexecute.
However, Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency dismissed Trump’s tweet in a feature story Friday, saying that American sanctions have hurt Iranian hospitals amid the pandemic.
“Trump is worried about the life of a murderer while he puts many Iranian patients’ lives in danger by imposing severe sanctions,” the agency said.


Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

Updated 34 min 40 sec ago

Police: 8 dead in shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis

  • The shooter wasn’t immediately identified
  • At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures
INDIANAPOLIS: Eight people were shot and killed in a late-night shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, and the shooter has killed himself, police said.
Multiple other people were injured Thursday night when gunfire erupted at the facility near the Indianapolis International Airport, police spokesperson Genae Cook said.
At least four were hospitalized, including one person with critical injures. Another two people were treated and released at the scene, Cook said.
The shooter wasn’t immediately identified, and Cook said investigators were still in the process of conducting interviews and gathering information.
Police were called to reports of gunfire just after 11 p.m. and officers observed an active shooting scene, Cook said. The gunman later killed himself.
FedEx released a statement saying it is cooperating with authorities and working to get more information.
“We are aware of the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport. Safety is our top priority, and our thoughts are with all those who are affected,” the statement said.
Family members gathered at a local hotel to await word on loved ones. Some said employees aren’t allowed to have their phones with them while working shifts at the facility, making it difficult to contact them, WTHR-TV reported.
Live video from news outlets at the scene showed crime scene tape in the parking lot outside the facility.
A witness who said he works at the facility told WISH-TV that he saw a man with a gun after hearing several gunshots.
“I saw a man with a submachine gun of some sort, an automatic rifle, and he was firing in the open,” Jeremiah Miller said.
Another man told WTTV that his niece was sitting in her car in the driver’s seat when the gunfire erupted, and she was wounded.
“She got shot on her left arm,” said Parminder Singh. “She’s fine, she’s in the hospital now.”
He said his niece did not know the shooter.

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

Updated 16 April 2021

Opponents of Myanmar military rule hold ‘silent strike’

  • Many Myanmar citizens have been taking to the streets day after day
  • The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 wanted people

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar observed a “silent strike” on Friday, with many people staying home to mourn the more than 700 people killed in protests against a Feb. 1 coup and others wearing black held small marches in several cities and towns.
Many Myanmar citizens, infuriated by the return of military rule after five years of civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, have been taking to the streets day after day with activists thinking up new ways to show opposition as the security forces step up their suppression.
“Let’s make the roads silent,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on her Facebook page.
“We have to stage a Silent Strike to show our sorrow for the martyrs who have scarified their lives. The most silent voice is the loudest.”
Friday is the fourth day of the five-day traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, known as Thingyan. Most people this year are shunning the usual festivities to focus on their campaign against the generals who overthrew Suu Kyi’s government and locked up her and many others.
Streets in the main city of Yangon were largely deserted, residents said, while black-clad protesters held small rallies in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
There were no immediate reports of violence but overnight, two people were shot and killed in the central town of Myingyan, Radio Free Asia reported.
A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
The military has also been rounding up its critics and has published the names of more than 200 people wanted under a law that makes it illegal to encourage mutiny or dereliction of duty in the armed forces.
Two prominent protest organizers were arrested on Thursday along with an actor and singer, both known for speaking out against the coup.
Late on Thursday, soldiers raided a famous Buddhist monastery in the second city of Mandalay and arrested two people, the Myanmar Now media group reported.
Opponents have been organizing both at home and abroad with the aim of stepping up their campaign.
A previously unknown group called the Ayeyarwaddy Federal Army said on Facebook it aimed to fight the military to restore an elected government and protect the people and it called for volunteers.
It gave no details about how it aimed to take on the well-equipped and seasoned army, which has been battling ethnic minority insurgents for decades.
International pressure has also been slowly building on the military, particularly from Western governments, though the military has a long record of brushing off outside pressure.
The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the coup and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target the two companies is the most significant response for the bloc since the coup.
EU diplomats said in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
The EU declined to comment and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.


Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

Updated 16 April 2021

Officer accused in George Floyd’s death skips stand during trial

  • Former Officer Derek Chauvin fate will be in a jury’s hands by early next week
  • Chauvin is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

MINNEAPOLIS: Former Officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in George Floyd’s death will be in a jury’s hands by early next week, after his brief defense wrapped up with Chauvin passing on a chance to take the stand and tell the public for the first time what he was thinking when he pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Closing arguments are set to begin Monday, after which a racially diverse jury will begin deliberating at a barbed-wire-ringed courthouse in a city on edge – not just because of the Chauvin case but because of the deadly police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb last weekend.
Before the jury was brought in Thursday, Chauvin, his COVID-19 mask removed in a rare courtroom moment, ended weeks of speculation by informing the judge he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Shortly afterward, the defense rested its case, after a total of two days of testimony, compared with two weeks for the prosecution.
Judge Peter Cahill reminded the jurors they will be sequestered starting Monday and said: “If I were you, I would plan for long and hope for short.”
Chauvin, 45, is charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death after the 46-year-old Black man was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Bystander video of Floyd gasping that he couldn’t breathe as bystanders yelled at Chauvin to get off him triggered worldwide protests, violence and a furious examination of racism and policing in the US
The most serious charge against the now-fired white officer, second-degree murder, carries up to 40 years in prison, though state guidelines call for about 12.
Prosecutors say Floyd died because the officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck or close to it for 9 1/2 minutes as he lay on the pavement on his stomach, his hands cuffed behind him and his face jammed against the ground.
Law enforcement veterans inside and outside the Minneapolis department testified for the prosecution that Chauvin used excessive force and went against his training, while medical experts said Floyd died of asphyxia, or lack of oxygen, because his breathing was constricted by the way he was held down.
Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson called a police use-of-force expert and a forensic pathologist to help make the case that Chauvin acted reasonably against a struggling suspect and that Floyd died because of an underlying heart condition and his illegal drug use. Floyd had high blood pressure and narrowed arteries, and fentanyl and methamphetamine were found in his system.
The only time Chauvin has been heard defending himself was when the jury listened to body-camera footage from the scene. After an ambulance had taken Floyd away, Chauvin told a bystander: “We gotta control this guy ‘cause he’s a sizable guy... and it looks like he’s probably on something.”
The decision of whether Chauvin should testify carried risks either way.
Taking the stand could have opened him up to devastating cross-examination, with prosecutors replaying the video of the arrest and forcing Chauvin to explain, one frame at a time, why he kept pressing down on Floyd.
But testifying could have also given the jury the opportunity to look at his unmasked face and see or hear any remorse or sympathy he might feel.
Also, what was going through Chauvin’s mind could be crucial: Legal experts say that an officer who believes his or her life was at risk can be found to have acted legally even if, in hindsight, it turns out there was no such danger.
In one final bit of testimony on Thursday, the prosecution briefly recalled a lung and critical care expert to knock down a defense witness’ theory that carbon monoxide poisoning from a squad car’s exhaust might have contributed to Floyd’s death. Dr. Martin Tobin noted hospital tests that showed Floyd’s level was at most 2 percent, within the normal range.
With the trial in session, Minneapolis has been bracing for a possible repeat of the protests and violence that broke out last spring over Floyd’s death.
The case has unfolded amid days of protests in the adjoining suburb of Brooklyn Center, after Officer Kim Potter, who is white, apparently mistook her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright. She resigned and was charged with manslaughter.
contributed from Atlanta.


India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

Updated 16 April 2021

India reports another record daily rise in COVID-19 infections

  • Total coronavirus cases in India nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States

BENGALURU: India reported a record daily increase of 217,353 COVID-19 infections over the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday.
It was the eighth record daily increase in the last nine days. Total cases reached nearly 14.3 million, second only to the United States which has reported more than 31 million infections.
India’s deaths from COVID-19 rose by 1,185 to reach a total of 174,308, the data showed.


Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

Updated 16 April 2021

Afghan government denies preventing Pakistani delegation from landing in Kabul

  • Pakistani lawmakers’ plane turned back after ‘old explosive’ found at airport: Interior ministry
  • Furious Afghan MPs slam government for lost opportunity to open new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations

KABUL: The Afghan government has shot down claims that authorities deliberately prevented an aircraft carrying a Pakistani parliamentary delegation from landing in Kabul.

Pakistan National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on April 8 left for the Afghan capital with a nine-member delegation on the invitation of the chairman of Afghanistan’s lower house, Mir Rahman Rahmani, with a view to holding wide-ranging discussions, including on Afghan peace and cross-border trade.

However, his plane was turned back as it was about to descend to Kabul airport, over what was reported to be a security threat.

Tariq Aryan, a spokesman for the Afghan interior ministry, said on Wednesday that at least four other flights were also prevented from landing at the airport that day as officials had to shut the facility to disarm an “an old explosive.”

He told Arab News: “The airport was shut because an explosive was found. There was no other thing.”

The incident led to outrage among Afghan members of parliament, who summoned the chiefs of the country’s security establishment, including the interior minister, for a briefing on the matter.

Sadiq Ahmad Osmani, a lawmaker from Parwan province, told Arab News: “Their reasoning and explanations were not compelling to the lawmakers because they (Pakistani lawmakers) could have been informed about this (security threat) way ahead of the departure of his (Qaiser’s) flight.

“We had full preparations, high protocol for his trip here, but unfortunately the news of the security threat there totally damaged our national hospitality. There are some at the top who had created the problem. It was an improper move,” he said.

Allah Gul Mujahid, a lawmaker from Kabul, said no trips by visiting officials had been canceled in the past 20 years over minor security threats.

Herat lawmaker, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, openly blamed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the cancellation of Qaiser’s visit. Ghani’s office was unavailable for comment.

“He (Ghani) wants to damage further relations between the two countries,” Hanafi said, adding that the visit could have opened a new chapter in Pakistani-Afghan relations.