Vahid and Habib Afkari are still being held in the basement of Adelabad Prison. Five days after a lawyer revealed legal representatives were being blocked from seeing them, and a month and a half after the dawn execution of their brother Navid, those that know them personally and human rights advocates across the world are in a state of heightened anxiety over what will become of these two young men.
No-one is this truer for than the Afkari brothers’ own family members, who have been able to see them in prison. A source close to the family has told IranWire that at these meetings, despite all that has befallen them and the obvious sadness in their eyes, Vahid and Habib remain “very strong” in front of their parents.
"They have pulled themselves together,” the source told IranWire. “Based on all I know about these brothers' emotional relationship to each other, they’re probably spending their every moment in solitary confinement going over the good memories.
“But none of the family members are in a good mental state. The more they try to distance themselves from what happened, the more they realize the injustice of the verdict that took Navid away, and the stronger their belief in Vahid and Habib’s innocence becomes."
Navid, Habib and Vahid Afkari were arrested after taking part in anti-government protests in late 2018. Charged in connection with the murder of a security guard during the demonstrations, the three were tortured and forced to give false confessions before being sentenced by the Revolutionary Court. Navid was sentenced to death and executed without advance notice on the morning of September 12, 2020. Vahid and Habib, have been handed respective prison sentences of 54 and 27 years.
Their mother, the source told IranWire, has contacted the authorities several times since Navid’s execution to ask why her two other sons are still being held in solitary confinement even after their sentences have begun. She has been told, the source said, that this is the result of “a decision by the judiciary”.
“Our question is, who made such a decision?” they said. “Give us a name, at least, so we can talk to them. But they just apologize and say they can’t give the name of the person responsible, or even the institution.
“The Afkari family has lost one of their children. The other two, who had a deep emotional bond with their brother, are in mourning in solitary confinement. And they don’t even know why.”
The Afkari family also has no clear understanding of when Habib and Vahid will be transferred to the ordinary prison ward. "Each official they speak to gives a different answer. One says ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fixed soon’. Another says it’s not clear but perhaps six months to a year. The ambiguity and the lack of anything predictable about the case is the most distressing part. Their mother does not know how long her two surviving sons will be locked in a semi-dark room.”
Before their sentencing, the Afkari brothers were subjected to beatings and torture, which Navid asserted had been recorded by a medical team in prison. Vahid and Habib have lodged a complaint over their treatment. Neither they nor their lawyers have been allowed access to their brother’s file, even after the mandatory 40-day moratorium came to an end.
"The complaint was recorded in the days leading up to Navid’s execution,” the source told IranWire. “But when the family tries to follow up on it, they are told there is no such case. Even in the courts’ computer system, the complaint does not show up. They have deprived the Afkari family of even the right to complain.”
Jailed Vahid Afkari Shares Testimony of Torture and Execution
Earlier this week, another person close to the family provided the media with an account of what the Afkari brothers experienced in the days and hours leading up to Navid’s execution. The testimony is understood to have come from Vahid, as he narrated it during a recent meeting with his family.
"On the Saturday morning [September 5],” Vahid Afkari said, “when I heard that Navid had been taken away, I went to the central corridor and called out for him. I was saying, ‘Where are you, Navid, brother?’. I asked the prison authorities where they had taken him. Habib, who was on the way to the meeting room, heard my voice and approached me.
“It was at that moment that a prison official named Omidvar called for the prison guard to come over. Khadem al-Hosseini approached us with more than 20 guards. They started beating me and Habib without so much as a word, and without us having said anything. The cameras recorded the whole scene. I was beaten half to death and Habib was beaten more badly still than me. They swore as they hit us. After that, they cuffed our hands and ankles, dragged us like corpses down to the basement, and threw us in solitary cells. Habib, Navid and I were held in cells two, three, and four respectively, and my cell was almost directly below the room where Navid’s execution took place."
Despite repeated requests for aid from the Afkari brothers, none of the prison officials asked about their condition or examined their injuries from Saturday, September 5 to Wednesday, September 9. Then on the Wednesday, Vahid said, they were finally seen by forensic medicine officials accompanied by Kazem Mousavi, Chief Justice of Fars province. “Over these four days,” he said, “some of the bruises and wounds had healed somewhat and were therefore not recorded. Four injuries were registered for me and six for Habib.
“But when I saw Navid's paper, I was shocked. It was completely full. More than 15 bruises were recorded by forensic medicine specialists. They did not leave a single part of his body unhurt.”
During this horrendous ordeal underground, Vahid Afkari also heard other voices crying out in pain from the occupants of next-door cells. Then, he said, “The Fars police commander came to see Navid with some of his subordinates. I heard them asking Navid, ‘Is it true that they say you were beaten here?’. Navid must have taken off his clothes, because the commander then said in surprise, 'Who beat you like this?'.
“Navid replied, ‘Khadem al-Hosseini and the prison guards’. Then he commander asked him, 'Navid, why did you do this?'.
“Navid asked, ‘What?’. The commander said, 'Why did you kill that officer?'. Navid replied that he was innocent – and everyone who has a particle of conscience knows this."
On the Friday night, hours before Navid’s execution, Vahid said the three were told that they were going to be transferred to Tehran. “They said, ‘If you want, you can tell your mother to come to see you’. We said it would be a bother for her at that time of night and there was no need; a phone call would be enough.”
Navid Afkari's last known contact with his other brother, Saeed, took place shortly after this exchange. Then sometime after midnight, Vahid said, prison officials came to their cells and told them it was time to go to Tehran.
“They took Navid first,” he said, “and I was waiting for them to take us too. Habib said he could hear a fight going on. Then, suddenly, I heard the sound of the execution platform being pulled."
Adelabad Inmates Remember Harrowing Encounters on Prison Ward
Vahid and Habib Afkari have now been held in two separate cells in the basement of Adelabad Prison for 48 days. They have had no contact with the outside world except for a few brief cabin visitation meetings with family members.
Other inmates inside the prison have also spoken to IranWire about what they saw on the night of Navid’s execution. “We had just tidied up the dinner tables,” one prisoner said, “and through the bars, we saw him being taken away – to a place we did not know about until then. He was handcuffed, and I guess he must have realized at the last minute that the ‘transfer to Tehran’ was a deceit, because he resisted and was beaten on the way."
Another inmate at Adelabad prison told IranWire that the day before Navid's execution, all telephone communication with people outside the prison was cut off. “At the time we didn’t know why,” he said. “Even prisoners on the Green Ward, who are allowed to communicate more freely with the outside world than others, were isolated so that no news could leak out."
In the aftermath, another prisoner said, they had seen Habib and Vahid come across each other by chance at the intersection of one of the prison corridors. “They ran towards each other when they saw each other,” he said. “They screamed from the roots of their hearts in pain, and said Navid’s name aloud.
“But the prison guards would not tolerate it, even then, and viciously beat them. They were obscene. They forced them apart and took each of them out of different sides of the corridor. It was a terribly sad and painful thing to watch for us, trapped inside the cells and unable to do anything in sympathy. It was as though the shadow of death had fallen over the ward. We were all sick."
Could the Alleged Victim’s Family Contest the Verdict?
The Afkari brothers vehemently protested their innocence throughout the murder trial, pointing out that their supposed confessions had been extracted under torture. An Iranioan lawyer has previously noted that if the family of the murdered man, a Turkmen security guard at the Shiraz Water and Sewerage Company, had given their consent, it might have been possible to secure a pardon for the Afkari brothers.
The source close to the family told IranWire that there was no truth to previous rumors that the two families had spoken before Navid’s death. “No direct conversation has taken place,” they said. “But there are many credible signals that the victim’s family are upset about the execution of Navid.
“I think because the Turkmen family was present at all stages of the trial, and they themselves heard Navid's defense, they know of his innocence better than anyone. They know a lot better than you or I what a cruel and illegal process took place. And I think that’s likely to be their true opinion.”