Zarif Visit To Germany 'On Hold' After Iran Executes 27-Year-Old Wrestler
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has confirmed Sunday’s report by the German newspaper Bild that this week’s visit of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's to Germany has been “postponed.”
Khatibzadeh said this was due to “logistical problems arising from the COVID pandemic” – so contradicting suggestions Berlin had acted in protest at Iran’s execution on September 12 of 27-year-old wrestler Navid Afkari despite international appeals for clemency.
The German Foreign Ministry has yet to make an announcement about the cancellation of the visit.
Zarif was due this week to visit several European countries – including Germany, France, Britain and Italy – but his whole trip is now in doubt. Khatibzadeh told Etemad newspaper on Sunday that visits planned to “some African, Asian and European countries” had not been “finalized due to logistical problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic” and that finalization within the next few weeks was “unlikely.”
The foreign minister’s trip to London, Berlin and Paris is of particular importance because the ‘E3’ are struggling to maintain Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and are resisting United States attempt to reintroduce United Nations sanctions against Tehran. The US withdrew in 2018 from the deal – signed by Iran with the E3, Russia and China – and re-imposed its own sanctions.
Pointing out that human rights organizations and eyewitnesses say Afkari’s death sentence, for the murder of a security guard during last year’s protests in Shiraz, was based on confessions extracted under torture, the German newspaper Bild reported on Sunday that Zarif’s visit to Berlin was on hold “for the time being.”
The newspaper made no explicit connection between the visit’s cancellation and Afkari’s execution, but German officials reacted with dismay as soon as news emerged.
In a tweet on Saturday the Federal Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Bärbel Kofler wrote: “It is unacceptable that the rule of law is ignored just to silence unpleasant voices. Navid’s two brothers, still in custody, now need our solidarity!”
Kofler had earlier expressed concern over human rights violations in Iran when urging Iranian authorities to ensure that Afkari and his two brothers, who have been sentenced to long jail terms, were given a fair trial and that no sentence be based on confessions extracted through torture. Kofler emphasized that Afkari’s death sentence should be dropped, and that the German government condemned capital punishment throughout the world.
The German Ambassador to Tehran Hans Odo Motzel in German and Persian tweets on Sunday wrote that Germany shared the grief of Afkari’s family, friends and the international athletics community.
Carrying out the death sentence without giving the accused a fair trial was not understandable, the President of the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) Alfons Hörmann was quoted by Frankfurter Allgemeine as saying.
International embarrassment for Zarif may be increased by emerging reports that the 27-year-old athlete and construction worker died under torture and that his family, denied access before his death, subsequently found his face with signs of beatings including a broken nose.