Former soccer captain arrested for supporting protests in Iran 0:39
Shahid Alikhani Square is a nondescript part of the historic Iranian city of Isfahan.
Its only feature of prominence is the grand entrance to one of the city's main metro stations.
But now it has become a pilgrimage site for supporters of prominent Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani, who fear the young man could be executed in the square, where an execution platform has been set up, a witness close to Nasr told him. Azadani told CNN.
Terrified, Iranian families believe that while the Western world is preoccupied with Christmas celebrations, a wave of executions is imminent following recent protests following the September death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman detained by Iran's moral police on charges of improperly wearing her hijab.
Working with the activist group 1500Tasvir, CNN verified documents, videos, witness testimony and statements from inside the country that suggest that at least 43 people, including Nasr-Azadani, could face imminent execution.
Authorities have already executed at least two people in connection with protests in Iran last month, one of whom was publicly hanged.
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Witness testimony and official documents, reviewed by CNN and 1500Tasvir, provide evidence suggesting that the judicial process has been rushed in Iran;
and that charges that could carry the death penalty were often handed down in a single sitting.
Nasr-Azadani is accused of participating in the killing of three security officers, including two volunteer members of the Basij militia, during protests in Isfahan on November 16, Iranian state media IRNA reported last week.
According to state media, the city's Chief Justice Asadullah Jafari said that Nasr-Azadani had been charged with
, or rioting against the authorities.
Under Iran's Penal Code, the sentence carries the death penalty.
A witness to his arrest has since said he hoped Nasr-Azadani would be released, but nonetheless visited Shahid Alikhani Square every day to see if the authorities would show up with the footballer and execute him on the gallows.
"From the day he was arrested, the authorities told us that he would be released at the end of the week," that witness told CNN.
Since then, there has been no further information.
Weeks later, the witness close to Nasr-Azadani said authorities told them the 26-year-old could be hanged in Shahid Alikhani Square.
"The idea that they can execute him at any time is really hard on us... and the daily news that we keep hearing is worrying."
Nasr-Azadani's family was initially unaware of the reason for his arrest, the witness told CNN, and officials declined to share information about his condition.
People close to him were also warned to "keep quiet" about his case if they wanted to see him released sooner, the witness told CNN.
The court said last week that it obtained "a video and sufficient documentation proving that he [Nasr-Azadani] is part of an armed group" and that the soccer player had confessed to his crimes, state media IRNA reported.
Protests in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini.
(Credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
“I really fear they will execute Majid”
Previous CNN investigations have found that prisoners have been subjected to torture and sexual assault.
Human rights groups say torture-tainted "confessions" have been used against defendants in sham trials.
Nonetheless, Iranian officials have defended the trials.
In recent days, an Iranian parliamentarian said that he believes those involved in the current riots should be executed within 5 to 10 days of their arrest.
CNN did not receive an official response from Iranian officials to its request for comment.
Another man, Majid Kazemi, was also charged with involvement in the killing of three members of the security forces in Isfahan, the document obtained by CNN and 1500Tasvir shows.
Kazemi told others that he was forced to confess to his involvement in criminal acts during his interrogation.
A former captain of the Iran soccer team was arrested for supporting the protests
"He didn't confess to doing any of the things he was accused of, so he was severely beaten," a source close to Kazemi told CNN.
A prisoner released from the facility where Majid is being held told the source that his arm, leg and nose were broken.
Majid's court session is scheduled for the Christmas season, the source tells CNN.
"This will coincide with a time when the international community is observing these holy days, and the Islamic Republic regime will take advantage of being removed from the watchful eyes of the world."
“I really think they will execute Majid”
In a recording from inside a Tehran prison, inmate Sahand Noor Mahammadzade talks about how he was forced to confess.
"The judge who was there told me to say that I do not protest (object] and he gave me three sheets that I signed, but they did not even allow me to read them," he said.
“The second time I was brought in for questioning, my charges had completely changed.
That second charge against me contained the term 'Moharabe,'” he said.
“They told me to go to the prosecutor's office and when he entered he told me: 'You can tell by his face.
Run it!'” he added.
Iranian-Kurdish karate champion Mohammad Mehdi Karami faces execution.
His parents publicly called for the order to be lifted.
In a hastily photographed document from inside the Isfahan regional court (obtained and verified by 1500Tasvir and CNN), it is revealed that at least 10 people in Isfahan were also charged with
(a war against God), spreading corruption in the land. and other charges, all of which carry the death penalty.
The charge, introduced after the 1979 revolution, is regularly levied against people accused of committing acts against the government.
Several other witness testimonies and official documents sent by families, and jointly authenticated by CNN and 1500Tasvir, reveal how the Iranian regime is speeding up the judicial process.
Families and activists say only court-appointed lawyers can represent defendants, who are also denied the right to appeal.
And if the charge is handed down, the Iranian Penal Code states that they could obtain the death sentence in a single session, although this is not carried out immediately and most sentences are appealed.
Soheil Jahangiri is one of the Iranians who received such a sentence.
His family members told CNN they haven't heard from him in over a month.
They say officials did not allow Jahangiri an independent lawyer.
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“Judicial officials have alluded to two charges:
Soheil could face any of these charges that carry the death penalty,” a relative said.
“We are quite afraid that, with the start of the Christmas holidays and the easing of political pressure on the government, the executions will start again, and I believe that the life of Soheil and the lives of many political prisoners is in danger.
We don't want to see our children executed while the media is silent," they added.
a bitter end
CNN was able to verify that dozens of people, some of them teenagers, face similar charges in connection with the protests and are at risk of execution.
In the Khuzestan regional court, west of Isfahan, CNN confirmed—along with 1,500Tasvir—through court documents that 23 people were charged with capital offences.
In Karaj, near Tehran, CNN and 1500Tasvir confirmed that five other Iranians face execution.
Among them is 21-year-old Iranian-Kurdish karate champion Mohammad Mehdi Karami, whose parents have also made a public plea for his life.
"Please, I beg you to lift the execution order from my son's file," says his father in a video shared on social networks.
In messages shared with CNN, his family says that Karami was not only sentenced to death, but was tortured in prison.
In another message shared with CNN, they said that despite the alleged mistreatment, Karami was in good spirits, but "physically damaged" from having suffered torture.
For those facing execution, the wait behind bars can be excruciating.
Earlier this week, 27-year-old Iranian-Kurdish rapper Saman Yasin attempted suicide while he was detained.
In his latest music video, Yasin rapped about inequality and oppression in Iran, singing “my throat was violently closed.
They banned beauty.
They invested me like an animal.
I am not satisfied with silence."
Just two days ago, Yasin tried to take his own life, after weeks of enduring harsh prison conditions in northern Iran, prison sources told CNN.
CNN was able to verify that at least 43 detainees face execution.
Statements from both Iranian officials and Iranian media reviewed by CNN and 1500Tasvir mention the names of the accused and show the actual number could be as high as 100. However, many of the families were too scared to confirm CNN's names. mentioned in the media.
As the year draws to a bitter end, many Iranians continue their desperate pleas.
In a video made public and shared with CNN, the mother of the brothers Farzad and Farhad Tahazade, aged 23 and 24, sent this message to the world: “Please listen to my children's cries for help.
My children are young and have children waiting for their release.
Please save them.
For God's sake, save my children."
In Iran, a woman is putting herself in grave danger by publicly denouncing the authorities on behalf of her children.
But it's a risk that many parents feel they have no choice but to take.
protests in iran