The Iranian regime executed Ahwazi sportsman and political activist Ali Mutairi in the infamous Sheiban prison in Ahwaz on 28 January 2021, in secret and without informing his family, on charges of ‘enmity against God’ and ‘corruption on earth’. The execution came almost three years after his arrest in April 2018 at his home in the town of Sheiban. According to activists and family members, 30-year-old Mutairi, a former boxing champion and widely respected sports coach, was subjected to almost a year of brutal torture in solitary confinement in a notorious local prison before finally signing a ‘confession’ admitting to the false charges against him simply to end the agony of torture.
The regime’s so-called Revolutionary Court in Ahwaz had issued the death sentence against Mutairi five months after the arrest in a typically brief kangaroo trial with no evidence at which he was allowed no defence, with his relatives flatly rejecting the charges against him and strongly condemning the injustice of the farcical court proceedings.
Ahwazi human rights activists and other human rights groups have strongly condemned the Ahwazi boxer’s execution, pointing out that he was executed only after confessing to the charges under duress.
Activists in Ahwaz recalled that Ali Mutairi was formerly a boxing champion, who later became a professional boxing coach widely admired in the region. The sources reported that the security authorities transferred Mutairi from Sheiban prison to an unknown location a few days ago in order to carry out the execution.
Even in the days before his execution, Mutairi had refused to be silent on the regime’s injustice and persecution, taking part in a hunger strike in Sheiban Prison that began on Saturday, 23 January over abuse of prisoners by prison officials and a ban on visits, along with four other political prisoners, Jasim Haidari, Ali Khasraji, Hussein Silawi, and Ali Moghadam, in Sheiban prison in Ahwaz.
Al-Arabiya reported that Iran’s Supreme Court upheld Mutairi’s death sentence, just 10 days after the execution of Navid Afkari, the Shirazi wrestler. Al-Arabiya also indicated that the security services had also detained some of Ali Mutairi’s family members due to their criticism of the regime’s Supreme Court and intelligence services.
Mutairi, from Sheiban, a town located five kilometres east of the capital, Ahwaz city, was executed after being found guilty of Moharebeh (enmity against God) for allegedly having links to an attack on Iranian regime security forces in 2018, although there is no evidence that he had any involvement or knowledge of the attack, in which the attackers were killed at the time. Ever since that attack, it has been used as a pretext for invoking the death penalty and other draconian sentences against Ahwazi dissidents and activists in the region and abroad. Ahwazi human rights organisations have indicated that the regime is very clearly ‘weaponising’ the 2018 attack as a political tool to justify further brutal suppression of any protest or dissent against the regime’s merciless persecution and criminal policies. In recent years, the regime has also taken to using slanderous accusations of extremism, ‘Wahhabism’ and ISIS membership or support to justify its accelerating brutality against Ahwazis; as always with the regime, these allegations are false and simply used to dehumanise and demonise Ahwazis for their Arab ethnicity. Indeed, the regime’s own religious extremism and longstanding connections with numerous terror groups, including Al Qaeda, make its attempts to slander Ahwazis with such charges even more surreally offensive.
Ahwazi activists and others have voiced outrage at this latest state murder on social media, pointing out that Ali Mutairi was a widely respected peaceful activist, dedicated to sports and to promoting Ahwazi Arab culture and identity, who had won widespread support for condemning the Iranian regime’s racist policies and brutal injustice towards the people of Ahwaz. In recent years, Tehran’s regime has stepped up its already brutal persecution of Ahwazis, arresting activists en masse and issuing harsh sentences often in closed-door courts.
The Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights noted in a report issued after the execution, that “Mutairi’s secret execution without the knowledge of his family is just one of a long series of judicial killings of Ahwazis,” pointing out that “the execution of Mutairi was a travesty of justice on multiple grounds“.
Following his arrest, the regime’s security authorities held Ali Mutairi in pre-trial detention for long periods, preventing him from having any access to a lawyer or presenting evidence of his innocence on the charges against him, and subjecting him to severe physical and psychological abuse. The Dur Untash Centre cannot confirm at this time whether or not the Iranian regime has given the body to Mutairi’s family.
The Iranian regime’s policy of suppressing Ahwazis has focused in recent years on arresting civil, cultural, political, human rights and environmental activists, often on sectarian and ‘terror-related’ charges, with a number of activists forced to give grotesque ‘confessions’ very obviously extracted under torture, which are broadcast on state TV, in which they ‘admit to’ the charges against them.
Regime security forces never mention the real reason for the activists’ and dissidents’ arrest – their public condemnation of the regime’s repression or participation in cultural and political activism – and, of course, flatly deny the regime’s longstanding persecution of the indigenous Arab people of Ahwaz. The Iranian regime has created a brutal, Orwellian security environment to intimidate and silence Ahwazi dissent.
Mutairi’s execution clarifies that the regime targets professional athletes and other widely admired figures who criticise the regime’s policies, with Mutairi being the third athlete executed in less than five months after Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari and fellow athlete Mehdi Ali Husseini.
Navid Afkari was executed at age 27 in September 2020, despite a high-profile international campaign asking the regime not to go ahead with the death sentence, while Mehdi Ali Husseini, only 29 years old, was executed a few weeks before Mutairi in January.
Following Afkari’s execution, the International Olympic Committee said it was “shocked” at the announcement of his killing. Letters from IOC President Thomas Bach, which were published by CNN, showed that he had earlier made direct personal appeals to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, as well as to the President of Iran, Rouhani asking for mercy for the champion sportsman. As always, however, the regime showed no mercy.
DUSC calls for this latest execution of another innocent sportsman by Iran’s regime to be similarly condemned by the international community and the International Olympic Committee, and for the Iranian regime to be prevented from participating in any sporting events until it ends this monstrous policy of persecuting and executing athletes.
The international community and human rights organisations should be made aware that Iran is engaged in what can only be described as a genocide and multiple crimes against humanity against Ahwazis, with large numbers of its executions of Ahwazi activists in prisons not even recorded, and the vast majority of victims’ bodies never handed over to their families, especially since 2011. At present, the regime also aims to implement the death penalty for four other Ahwazi political activists, who faced similar kangaroo trials at a court in Ahwaz, whose unjust sentences the Supreme Court in Tehran predictably upheld.
Ruth Riegler is a Scottish writer, editor and supporter of universal freedom, democracy and human rights who previously lived in the Middle East. She tweets under @NippySweetyLass.