Cellmate of Iranian Regime Critic Dies Under 'Suspicious Circumstances,' Watchdog Says

Shahin Naseri testified that Iran tortured wrestler Navid Afkari

An Iranian flag (Reuters)
September 22, 2021

The cellmate of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, whom Iran executed last year for his criticism of the regime, died this week under "suspicious circumstances," according to a human rights watchdog.

While Iranian officials have not announced the death of Shahin Naseri, who testified in the trial of his former cellmate, prisoners have informed his family that he has died, the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights reported Tuesday. During Afkari's trial, Naseri said the wrestler falsely admitted to murdering a security officer after his Iranian captors tortured him. A source familiar with Naseri's imprisonment said prison authorities sent the detainee to solitary confinement shortly before his death.

The prisoner's death follows several regime-sponsored executions and arrests of political dissidents. Tehran also imprisoned Afkari's brothers Vahid and Habib for participating in anti-regime protests in 2018. Iranian authorities killed Mehdi Ali Hosseini, another champion Iranian wrestler, in January 2021, while bodybuilder and government critic Reza Tabrizi remains in prison.

Iran's crackdown on dissenters comes as the Biden administration tries to renegotiate the controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, even after notorious hardliner Ebrahim Raisi became president of the country last month. President Joe Biden affirmed his commitment to a nuclear deal during his United Nations General Assembly speech on Tuesday.

"The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon," Biden said. "We are working with the P5+1 to engage Iran diplomatically and seek a return to the [nuclear deal]. We're prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same."

Elliott Abrams, the former Trump administration envoy for Iran and chairman of the Vandenberg Coalition, told the Washington Free Beacon that Biden's stance on Iran projected weakness.

"That struck me as a kind of weak formulation," Abrams said. "'The U.S. is committed' sounds like we're committed to trying. He could say tougher things—like, 'Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon on my watch.'"

Published under: Elliott Abrams , Iran