Iran’s regime strikes again: the hanging of karate champion Mohammad Mehdi Karami

Explore the disturbing reality of the regime's persecution of sportsmen and political opponents, and how the international community is standing against these human rights abuses. Soccer players, climbers, wrestlers, boxers, swimmers, mountaineers, cyclists... the list of athletes arrested, tortured, murdered and disappeared dates back to the 1970s with the rise of the Islamic regime, whose persecution of its opponents has intensified.
  1. The article tells the story of Mohammad Mehdi Karami, a young Iranian karate champion with a bright future, who was sentenced to death by hanging by the Islamic regime of Iran, accused of killing a member of the paramilitary Basij force during the protests.
  2. Mohammad Mehdi Karami was executed despite his family’s pleas and claims that he was tortured to extract a false confession. His case is just one of the many examples of the regime’s persecution of sportsmen and political opponents in Iran.
  3. The article also highlights the international condemnation of the human rights violations committed by the regime and the calls for an end to the executions.

Soccer players, climbers, wrestlers, boxers, swimmers, mountaineers, cyclists… The list of sportsmen arrested, tortured, killed, and disappeared dates back to the seventies of the last century, with the rise of the Islamic regime, whose persecution of opponents intensified with the historic mass protests following the death of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, killed by the Morality Police. The modus operandi of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime consists of accusing opponents of being against God, inciting riots or supporting rioters, arresting them, torturing them to extract false confessions, and then sentencing them…

Kurdish karateka Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 21, and children’s trainer Seyed Mohammad Hosseini, 20, were hanged on Saturday, the 7th. It was the punishment imposed on them by Iran’s Islamic regime for allegedly killing a member of the paramilitary Basij force, on November 3 last, during the protests that began last September in that country, following the murder of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who was savagely beaten and tortured by the allegedly defunct Morality Police.

Karami and Hosseini were sentenced to death by hanging on December 5, less than a week after an unfair group trial based on coerced confessions began. Karami’s family claims that the athlete was tortured in prison and denied representation by lawyer Mohammad Hossein Aghasi.

To no avail were the pleas of Karami’s parents, who posted a video on social media asking the state to spare his life. “My son is among the karate champions. He has several national titles and was the fourth-ranked member of the national team… I beg you to lift the execution order,” Mr. Karami said in a poignant video on U.S. broadcaster CNN. He met only deaf ears.

Karami had a tattoo of the Olympic rings on the triceps of one of his arms. At 11, he began practicing karate, a discipline that entered the Olympic program for the first time in Tokyo in 2020. His talent as a child catapulted him to the Iranian youth national team, where he began to succeed in national titles.

Hosseini was remembered by Ye-One Rhie, a German lawmaker who highlighted his work as a volunteer coach. “The story of #SeyedMohammadHosseini is very sad. He lost both his parents. He visited their graves every Thursday. He coaches kids for free,” he wrote on his Twitter account. Hosseini was arrested on his way to his parents’ graves. His brother was also arrested and has not been heard from.

“Before the group trial began, state media broadcast the forced ‘confessions’ of the defendants and described them as ‘murderers,’ in violation of their rights to be presumed innocent and to be free from torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” Amnesty International released after the executions.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union have urged Iran to halt the executions following the hanging of the athlete and coach. Since protests began on September 16 to demand more freedoms and rights for women from the Islamic regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President of the Republic of Iran Ebrahim Raisi, four people have been executed.

According to available figures, 41 others have received death sentences. “A regime that murders its own youth to intimidate its population has no future,” Ye-One Rhie wrote on Twitter on Monday 9.

Mohammad Mehdi Karami's family
The parents and family of the Kurdish Karateka Mohammad Mehdi Karami

The list of people exterminated by the Iranian regime goes well outside the sports world. Remember that, in December 2022, Majidreza Rahnavard was sentenced to death for allegedly killing two members of security forces, despite international outrage over its application of the death penalty to those involved in the demonstrations. One month before Majidreza’s death, 35-year-old Iranian academic Nasrin Ghaderi was beaten to death, just around a month after the killing of Mahsa Amini.

Two days after the execution of Karami and Hosseini, the ayatollah regime spared the life of soccer player Amir Nasr-Azadani, who was first sentenced to death by hanging and then sentenced to 26 years in prison. His case went viral during the Qatar 2022 World Cup, as it became known that he was accused of committing the crime called moharebeh (enmity with God). Azadani, a 26-year-old defender who played for the Iranjavan club in Iran’s professional soccer league, confessed under torture to killing two military officers of the regime.

On December 12, 23-year-old wrestler Majid Reza Rahnavard was hanged to death on a crane in the middle of the street in the city of Mashad, some 900 km east of Tehran. This is the first public execution of a protester whose grisly image was published as an act of propaganda by the official Iranian media Mizan News. Rahnavard was charged with the same crimes as Azani and died on the gallows just 23 days after his arrest.

Security forces have killed other sportsmen from September to date. IranWire published the list, a collaborative news website run by Iranian diaspora journalists and citizens: Ali Mozaffari, a player from Tehran’s Saipa volleyball club, was killed during protests in the northeastern city of Ghouchan last September 21. He was hit by a bullet.

On October 22, in the southwestern city of Dezful, security forces shot 22-year-old Mohammad Ghaemifar of the local Jondishapur Omid team in the back. More than 40 pellets entered his skull and neck. He died two weeks later in hospital. His family was pressured not to release the news of his death.

Bodybuilder Ehsan Ghasemifar, 32, winner of provincial and national championships and participant in international competitions, was killed in the northern city of Karaj in December 2022.

The human rights site Hengaw wrote that Ghasemifar was participating in an Instagram live show when government forces surrounded him, and communication was cut off. A few hours later, the authorities informed his relatives that they could collect the body and pressured them to say he died of a heart attack.

But even before the protest movement over the murder of Mahsa Amini – whose crime was not wearing her veil properly, as it exposed a lock of her hair – the Iranian regime had already executed, arrested, tortured, threatened, pressured, and handed down prison sentences against the country’s athletes for participating in rallies, expressing support for protesters, criticizing repression or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In September 2020, champion wrestler Navid Afkari was executed, aged 27, sparking widespread condemnation, including from the United States and the EU, which was ignored by the Iranian regime, which accused him of killing a security guard during anti-government protests in 2018. The fighter and his family rejected the charges and also said he was tortured into making false confessions.

Bloodthirsty regime

Since its inception in the late 1970s, the Islamic regime has executed Iranian athletes. The Al-Arabiya television channel listed these deaths on its website: the volleyball player Foruzan Abdi, captain of the women’s national team, was arrested in 1981. She was barely 20 years old. She was accused of supporting the opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and sentenced to five years in prison. After that time, she was not released and was hanged to death in Tehran’s Evin Prison in 1988.

The soccer player Habib Khabiri, a former men’s national team member, was arrested in 1983 and accused of belonging to the MEK. He was shot in 1984. Khabiri is one of 282 people named in a United Nations report on human rights in Iran that lists those who were “summarily and arbitrarily executed in the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1984 to 1985.”

Mahshid Razaghi was a member of Iran’s Olympic soccer team. He was arrested in 1980 for selling anti-government newspapers and sentenced to one year in prison. He was also not released after serving his sentence and was imprisoned until his execution in 1988.

Hooshang Montazeralzohoor was a champion wrestler who was arrested in 1981 and executed by firing squad along with 29 others that same year. According to the regime, they were all members of the MEK. Montazeralzohoor represented Iran at the Montreal 76 Olympic Games and the 1977 Universiade in Bulgaria.

Majid Jamali-Fashi was a professional kickboxer who was arrested in 2010 on charges of working for the Israeli Mossad and murdering a nuclear scientist in Tehran. He was hanged in 2012. State television showed him confessing to his charges, but Iranian activists and human rights groups believe he was tortured into making false confessions. An alleged Israeli passport of Jamali-Fashi was circulated and taken from Wikipedia.

Awaiting execution

IranWire’s list also released the names of athletes who are in danger of execution, in addition to Amir Nasr-Azadani, whose prison sentence – according to background information – does not exempt him from death at the hands of the regime, is 26-year-old swimming champion Parham Parvari, who committed the crime of moharabeh.

A relative of Parvari told IranWire that the swimmer was returning home in his car when a protest began, “Special Motorcycle Unit forces started destroying cars. Several cars in front of Parham’s were able to escape, some people abandoned their cars and left, but Parham stayed inside. He had all his ID cards and documents, but the officers beat him and arrested him.”

Bodybuilder Sahand Nourmohammadzadeh was arrested on October 4 during protests on Tehran’s Ashrafi Esfahani Road and a month later sentenced to death for moharabeh (waging war against God), for “breaking the railing” on the road and “setting fire to a trash can,” which he denies. In an audio provided to IranWire, he said that he was told he would be executed since he was arrested.

Another group of sportsmen are behind bars or have already been released: Voria Ghafouri, one of the most famous Iranian soccer players, was arrested by security forces in front of his children while training with the Khuzestan Foolad team. He was accused of “insulting and destroying the team.” He was released on bail on November 29.

Parviz Broumand, soccer coach and former Iranian national team player, was arrested on 15 November in Tehran for leading “riots.” He was also released on bail on November 29.

Kaveh Rezaei, currently a striker for Iran’s second-division Tractor team and a former national team member, was arrested on September 29 for expressing support for the protesters on social media. He was released on bail three days later. Hossein Mahini, a player for Iran’s Saipa FC and former Persepolis captain, was arrested on September 28 during a raid on his home by more than 15 elements of the security forces. He was charged with “inciting unrest.” He was released on bail on October 4. Hamidreza Ali Asgari, another former captain of the Persepolis team, was arrested on October 2 for “supporting rioters.”

Asian and world wrestling champion Alireza Nejati revealed that on December 11, he was summoned by the police, arrested and released on bail for reporting a fraud committed by a partner and the president of the Iran Wrestling Federation. He claimed that both threatened him. He also made comments on social media supporting the protests.

Mountaineer Reyhaneh Armaghani was abducted on November 1 during a raid by security agents from her home. A few days later, she told her family over the phone that she was being held at the Intelligence Ministry Detention Center. Her cell phone and laptop were confiscated during the raid on her home.

Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei

Climber Dariush Hossein Shahravi was in his car in front of his home on November 1 when he was beaten and arrested by plainclothes officers attacking protesters. Eshragh Najafabadi, a former national cycling and mountaineering team member, was arrested in the southern city of Shiraz on October 30. He is being held at an unknown location, and his family is concerned that “he may be under pressure to make forced confessions.”

Last October 26, 34-year-old climber Amir Arslan Mahdavi, a snowboard instructor and member of mountaineering teams, was arrested on the street in Shiraz and taken to an unknown location. Another climber from Shiraz, Marjan Jangjou, was arrested on November 2 and taken to an unknown location after security forces raided her home. There is no information on her whereabouts.

Dana Shaybani, a snowboard instructor from Shiraz, was arrested on November 10 while traveling in a cab. She was reportedly transferred to Detention Center No. 100, but her family has had no information about her since November 22. Another mountain climber from Shiraz, Hamed Ghashghaei, was arrested on November 16 for writing the word “freedom” with plaster on the heights of Drak Mountain. Hessam Mousavi, a rock climbing instructor from Shiraz, was arrested on November 30.

According to information received by IranWire, more than 30 athletes from Shiraz have been kidnapped and detained. Still, their families are unwilling to talk because they are under pressure and have not been informed of the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Other athletes who are under threat are joining this endless list: coach and former soccer player Ali Karimi is in self-imposed exile. He joined the protests on his social networks since the beginning of the movement, so his bank accounts and home have been seized.

Rock climbing champion Elnaz Rekab has been under house arrest since her return to Iran after participating in a competition in South Korea without the mandatory hijab. Her brother stated that the family home was destroyed in retaliation.

Former national soccer team member and Iran’s top scorer Ali Daei, who has been in the protest movement since the early days, participated in a three-day nationwide strike in December, prompting the government to close his jewelry store and restaurant in Tehran.

Soccer star Yahya Golmohammdi criticized the national team after the team met with Iran’s president before traveling to the World Cup in Qatar. A day later, he was summoned by the authorities, and his internet activities were banned. Aref Gholami, a defender of the Esteghlal soccer team, criticized the crackdown on protesters and was removed by the club’s executive director, Sardar Mostafa Ajorlou, and is not even allowed to train.

Parmida Ghasemi, the national team’s goalkeeper, removed her hijab during the medal ceremony of competition in Tehran in November. The next day, she was forced to make forced confessions and claimed that she did not realize that the wind had blown her veil away.

Soroush Rafiei, captain of the Persepolis club, was brutally beaten on November 15 after helping a girl being chased by security forces.

The players of the beach soccer team, who did not sing the Islamic Republic’s anthem during an international competition, came under pressure after returning to Iran. Some players, such as Saeed Piramoun, Mohammad Ahmadzadeh, Moslem Mesigar, and Mostafa Kiani, were no longer called up.