Iranian authorities have confirmed the death of prisoner Shahin Naseri, who had claimed he witnessed the torture of champion wrestler Navid Afkari before his execution on homicide charges.
Prison officials on September 23 said they are investigating the cause of death in Naseri's case.
Two days earlier, the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) group quoted "informed sources" as saying Naseri had died under “suspicious circumstances” in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary after being transferred to solitary confinement.
The rights group said the source told it that Naseri had been transferred to an unknown location on the anniversary of the execution of Afkari, who had been convicted of murdering a security guard during mass anti-government protests in 2018.
Afkari was hanged on September 12, 2020, despite an international outcry after he said he was tortured into making a false confession, while his attorney said there was no proof of his guilt. Iran's judiciary dismissed the torture claim.
Naseri claimed he witnessed Afkari being subjected to a heavy beating by two plainclothes agents and that he had heard him screaming.
In an audio message recently obtained by RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Naseri said he was a witness to “medieval torture” against Afkari.
He also said that authorities had threatened him not to testify about Afkari.
“We found out today that he was held in solitary confinement in the Greater Tehran Penitentiary to prevent him from making phone calls and giving interviews to news outlets,” IHR quoted an unnamed source as saying on September 22. The source added that Naseri was not suffering from any health issues and that he was not considered suicidal.
A statement by the General Directorate Of Prisons of the Tehran Province issued on September 23 said Naseri died 45 minutes after being taken to a prison clinic where resuscitation efforts, including cardiac massage and artificial respiration, failed to save him.
The statement, which said Naseri was serving a prison term for fraud, theft, and forgery, added that the cause of his death was being probed and will be announced later.
Following the announcement, the head of Iran’s Prisons Organization ordered a special probe into Naseri’s death, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported on September 23. The report said a deputy on health, correction, and education to the Prisons Organization had paid a visit to the Greater Tehran Penitentiary and "closely" examined the death of Naseri while also speaking to his cellmates.
Separately, the police said Naseri was arrested five days after Afkari and that the two men did not have any contact as they were held in separate branches, Naseri for fraud and Afkari for homicide. The police statement said Naseri had a record in several provinces for criminal offenses ranging from fraud, to forgery and theft.
Meanwhile, lawyer Babak Paknia said on Twitter that Naseri had contacted him on September 20 and asked for help. He didn’t offer more details.
Naseri’s death is the latest case of someone dying without official explanation while in custody in Iran.
In a report released on September 15, Amnesty International said it had recorded at least 72 such deaths in custody since January 2010 despite credible reports that the deaths were the result of torture or other ill-treatment, or the lethal use of firearms and tear gas by officials. The rights group said not a single Iranian official has been held accountable for these deaths.