On September 23, the United States government announced sanctions against the judge who issued the death sentence for Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old Iranian wrestler who was executed on September 12.
At the time of his execution, Afkari had been handed down two death sentences. He was sentenced to retribution (qisas) for the murder of a government official during protests in Shiraz in August 2018, and charged with moharebeh (waging war against God) for participating in these protests.
The US government has now placed Mahmoud Sadati, a Shiraz Revolutionary Court judge who issued the death sentence, on its list of secondary sanctions.
So what is known about Mahmoud Sadati and the other judges involved in Navid Afkari's case? Who are the judges who ruled that he should be punished to death?
Navid Afkari received two death sentences. First he was sentenced to death for the murder of Hassan Torkman, a security guard for the Shiraz Water Organization and a member of the local Basij, the volunteer wing of the Revolutionary Guards. The murder took place during protests in August 2018. Afkar was also given a death sentence for taking part in these protests, charged with “waging war against God.” His two brothers, Vahid and Habib, have been given long prison sentences for aiding and abetting the murder and participating in protests.
Navid Afkari was executed on the morning of Saturday, September 12. His family was given no prior notice. The execution shocked people around the world, and led to widespread condemnation of the Iranian authorities.
Judge Tahmtan and Judge Vahid Asadi
Afkari, who was from Shiraz, had stated in audio clips released from the court that he had been tortured and forced to confess to the crimes of which he was accused. He stated that he had played no role in the murder of Hassan Torkman.
In one of the published audio files, he asks the judge to summon the witness who testified about his torture. The judge ignored this request.
In another section of the clip, Afkari asks the judge to show the CCTV footage the court used as criminal evidence against him. The judge also refused to show this footage to the court.
The murder case against Navid Afkari was investigated by the First Branch of the Criminal Court of Fars province. The judge who issued the retribution sentence was Judge Mehrdad Tahmtan. "Mr. Afkari, execution is not a joke," the judge told him in a file released from Afkari’s trial. "I can throw the rope around your neck with ease of mind."
Judge Mehrdad Tahmtan was also responsible for handing down a death sentence to the killer of the Friday prayer Imam of Kazerun, along with Judge Vahid Asadi. Both are based at a criminal court in Fars province.
Tahmtan also dealt with the case of Vahid Afkari, Navid Afkari’s brother, who was sentenced to a total of 54 years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting the murder of Hassan Torkman and participating in the protests in August 2018. Vahid Afkari recorded his account of his experience with Tahmtan. "Judge Tahmtan told me, 'Do you accept the charge of aiding and abetting murder?' I said: ‘if someone saw me committing murder, summon him. If the camera captured a photograph of me near the murder scene, show it. If there is proof that I committed a crime in my home, show it.’ But in response to all my requests, the judge just made fun of me, laughed and repeated his question: ‘Do you accept these accusations or not?’
"In court, when I told Judge Asadi that we were innocent and that they should present evidence if they have it, he said, 'Boy, do you think we live in Switzerland? And then he issued an unreasonable, undocumented and unjust verdict."
In the recording, Vahid Afkari went on to explain that he had gone on a 20-day hunger strike twice during the time he was being tortured regularly. He says he also tried to commit suicide by cutting his neck with a piece of glass.
"Tahmtan and Asadi are among the judges assigned to review cases put forth by the security forces," a source who knows about the judiciary in Fars province told IranWire. “Not every judge was allowed to investigate the murder of the Friday prayers leader. These judges also issued heavy sentences for the November 2019 protesters in Shiraz."
In 2013, Judge Asadi was honored at a conference for judges and judicial staff in Fars province. At the time, he was introduced as the investigator of Branch 17 of the Shiraz Prosecutor's Office. According to coverage of the conference, Judge Asadi was praised for his accuracy, speed, and determination in dealing with serious and violent crimes.
IranWire’s source with good knowledge of judges in the province said that it was common for judges affiliated to the regime to receive praise.
Judge Mahmoud Sadati
Navid Afkari was sentenced to death on charges of moharebeh, or waging war against God, by Judge Mahmoud Sadati, the head of the Shiraz Revolutionary Court. Prior to the Afkari case, the human rights organization Justice for Iran had listed Mahmoud Sadati as one of Iran’s many human rights violators. The organization said the judge, who was born in 1958, sits on the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal; is a prosecutor for the Public and Revolutionary Prosecutor's Office of Fars; a military prosecutor for Fars, Bushehr and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces; the chief of the military courts of Fars, Bushehr, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad and Khuzestan provinces, was the head of the Judicial Organization of the Armed Forces of Fars, Bushehr, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad provinces until 2007; and the head of the first branch of the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz.
The source told IranWire: "Sadati treats lawyers well, but treats defendants very badly. He is known among lawyers for appearing to be lenient but then issuing heavy sentences for defendants."
The source emphasized that Sadati tends to ask many questions that are not appropriate in the circumstances and that are not in line with legal process. "The judge should not impose anything on the accused, but Judge Sadati does this systematically. For example, he keeps telling the accused, ‘do you mean …?’ In other words, he puts what he wants to attribute to the accused in his mouth."
The source went on to say that in these cases, when other lawyers point out that this type of questioning is against the law, Sadati resolves the matter with a laugh.
Sadati was also the judge in the case regarding a gathering in Pasargad, Fars province on October 28, 2016 on the occasion of Cyrus the Great Day. Seventy-four of those involved were arrested and issued heavy sentences. In November 2016, the family of one of the detainees spoke to IranWire about their experience with the judge, and said when they objected to the sentence handed down to their son, who had been in prison for five years, Sadati told them: "Go and thank God, they should have been accused of moharebeh!"
Navid Afkari also said in the interview that Judge Sadati had called him a mohareb: "Mahmoud Sadati, after reciting from a Koran Surah Al-Ma’idah verse, said, 'you are a mohareb and an enemy of God. You will soon be executed in the Shahcheragh prayer hall.'"
He explained that when he told Mahmoud Sadati that he, as a defendant, was entitled to a written copy of the sentence that had been issued, he was told he did not have the right to make such demands. “When I asked Judge Sadati if there was any evidence that I had committed a crime, he said, ‘This is the Revolutionary Court and we do not need evidence.’"
In addition to handing down Afkari’s sentence, Judge Mahmoud Sadati also issued long sentences to Baha’is in Shiraz and to teachers and trade union activists. Like Judge Asadi, Judge Sadati was honored by the judiciary, deemed an exemplary judge in 2017.
"Judge Sadati, who has been serving as the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal of Shiraz for five years, has been serving in the judiciary in Fars province for his valuable services and good judicial performance," an article published on Mizan, a news agency affiliated with the judiciary, said at the time, adding that he had been presented with a special plaque for his work.