Amir Nasr-Azadani, a former player for the Rah-Ahan, Tractor, and Gol-e Rayhan football teams, is in danger of execution. The Islamic Republic’s judicial system is planning to hang him for a crime it calls "moharebeh".
Except for players from the national football team who participated in the 2022 Qatar World Cup, flying the Islamic Republic’s flag, many current and former Iranian football stars have called for his death sentence to be revoked. IranWire has learned that Nasr-Azadani’s family have been repeatedly "threatened" by the Islamic Republic’s security forces and instructed by their lawyer to keep quiet. Families are often promised a reduced sentence for their loved one, or the release of a prisoner sentenced to death, if they don’t speak out.
Who is Amir Nasr-Azadani?
Nasr-Azadani was born in February 1996 in Isfahan. He started playing football in primary teams in Sepahan Isfahan. In 2014, he became a member of the Tehran Rah-Ahan team and played in Iran’s Premier League for the first time. He joined Tractor a year later and was a member of the team until 2019.
There, he worked with coaches such as Yahya Golmohammadi,Ertugrul Saglam, John Toshack, Mohammad Taghavi, and George Likens.
He suffered a rupture of his cruciate ligament in 2018 and was removed from the Tractor team after a year of missing training and matches.
He became a member of the Gol-e Rayhan football team in Iran's first football league in 2020. A year later, he was injured again and had surgery to treat his leg. He was also invited to join Iran’s national youth team.
Mehdi Mahdavikia, a former player for Iran’s national football team, claimed on his Instagram page that he had first seen Nasr-Azadani in the camp of the Iranian national youth team in Germany.
How was he arrested?
Tasnim news agency, affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported on November 17 that Colonel Esmaeil Cheraghi had been killed during nationwide protests.
Three days later, on November 20, the state-run broadcaster IRIB, released a video of the forced confessions of three people accused of Cheraghi's murder. Citing Iran’s security institutions, they claimed that the accused men in Esmaeil Cheraghi and two other Basij member’s death, had been arrested in Isfahan city.
The two Basij members were named Mohammed Hossein Karimi and Mohsen Hamidi. IRIB did not mention the names of the defendants, but following the publication of the videos, the identities of the three main defendants were published on social media: Amir Nasr-Azadani, Saleh Mirhashmi, and Saeed Yaghoubi.
IranWire sources said that Nasr-Azadani had been present in some nationwide protests, but he was never present in the area where IRGC and Basij forces were killed. The source also said that his presence in the protests was short and limited to chanting slogans for a few hours.
Why was Nasr-Azadani's name not published?
Nasr-Azadani was among those arrested in Isfahan. IranWire first reported his arrest on November 24, based on information released by Saeed Azari, the former director of Zob-e Ahan and Foulad clubs, who confirmed the arrest of the Isfahani footballer on his Instagram.
Azari posted photos of Nasr-Azadani and Voria Ghafouri, two Iranian football players who were arrested by security forces, and wrote: "A hero is not exactly a politician. He is a man with a free-thinking soul. If he gives an opinion, it is because of the people who gave him his identity, in the heat and in the cold."
One of Nasr-Azadani's relatives told IranWire that his family had been threatened by security forces in the days following his arrest that if they "disclosed the news of his arrest", he would be issued the most severe sentence possible.
According to IranWire’s sources, the family was initially unaware of the reason for his arrest, as well as the judicial system's filing of a case to frame him for the involvement in the murder of three government forces. The family's efforts to be able to choose a lawyer for him were unsuccessful.
This source told IranWire: "After the court was convened and when his family was informed of the charges against him, the lawyer appointed by the judicial system informed them that the verdict was only to cause fear, but if the family members reacted and spoke to foreign media, the death sentence would become final."
In recent weeks, reports have been published about the lawyers trusted by the judicial system who were selected and appointed for the case. Mohammad Ali Darriz, one of the approved lawyers close to Iran’s judiciary, after publishing the news of the execution of Mohsen Shekari, not only defended this government’s decision, but called for the intensification and acceleration of the execution.
Nasr-Azadani's family is still afraid of talking publicly or releasing news related to him. A source says: "His family is worried about him. They have also received threats. They think that by waiting and remaining silent, they may avoid the death sentence." The source said Nasr-Azadani had no role in the beating or killing of three government forces in Isfahan.
Who remained silent and who called for the sentence to be revoked?
Except for the Iranian national football team’s players who participated in the J.C. Cup competitions, many prominent figures and current and former players have voiced their support for him.
Ali Karimi and Mehdi Mahdavikia are the most well-known former Iranian football players who have spoken out in recent months regarding the nationwide protests and the suppression of protesters. Karimi called for the execution of Amir Nasr-Azadani to be revoked and called for support for the player on his Twitter and Instagram. Mahdavikia, who had seen Amir in the training camp of the national youth team in Germany, expressed his concern upon hearing news of the sentence.
Masoud Shojaei, a player for Nasaji team and a former player of Iran's national football team, used the hashtag "No to execution" along with Nasr-Azadani's photo in an Instagram story.
Mohammad Reza Akhbari, Tractor’s current captain and goalkeeper, who has been in the team since 2015, wrote on his Instagram: "Those who know Amir closely know what a reserved boy he was." He asked the football players to help him.
Siamak Nemati, current player of Persepolis, Farzin Grosian player of Sanat-e Naft team, Mohammedreza Mehdizadeh and Milad Zanidpour, former players of Sepahan, Mehdi Kiani former player of Sepahan and now Tractor, Iman Salim, former player of Tractor and now Mes Rafsanjan, Mohammed Nosrati, a former player of the national team, Mohammed Iranpourian, a player of Sepahan and Tractor in the past seasons, Mohammed Tayebi, current player of Sanat-e Naft, Mehrdad Poladi and Reza Nowrozi, former players of the Iranian national team, also posted Instagram stories, and called for the death sentence to be suspended.
At the time of the publication of this article, none of the players or coaches who went to the Qatar World Cup have reacted to the execution of Mohsen Shekari or the threat of execution of Nasr-Azadani. Only Alireza Biranvand, the team’s goalkeeper, called for the execution to be revoked on his Instagram, without mentioning the name of the person who was going to be executed, or the people in danger of being executed.