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Israeli Newspaper Airs Dissident’s Call To Bar Iran Olympics Chief From Tokyo Games

With the German and Norwegian national football teams this week drawing attention to human rights in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, the Jerusalem Post on Thursday [March 26] ran a story alleging that the president of Iran’s Olympics Committee, Seyed Reza Salehi-Amiri, was involved as an intelligence officer in the “murder of prisoners via torture.”

The story cites claims made by Sardar Pashaei, a former national wresting team coach and world champion, who emigrated to the United States in 2011. Pashaei has urged the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to ban Salehi-Amiri from the Tokyo Olympics in July. Pashaei tweeted on March 23 that Salehi-Amiri was “an intelligence officer responsible for the arrest and torture of Iranian dissidents” in the 1980s and 1990s: “His presence [at the games] is against the Olympic Charter.”

In an earlier tweet, on March 15, Pashaei repeated allegations made in a Voice of America (VOA) program aired on August 10, 2013 against Salehi-Amiri, at that time an official in the ministry of youth affairs and sports, and the current government spokesman Ali Rabiei.

VOA cited historian Abdollah Shahbazi in claiming Rabiei had recounted an incident from his days as an intelligence officer – VOA gave no date – when detainees had suffocated while being transported to Tehran in coffins from Astara, north-west Iran (not Astara in the Azerbaijan Republic).

In explaining the involvement of Salehi-Amiri, VOA said he was then Rabiei's assistant, working under the alias Seyed-Reza Fallah, and that he served as a “reconnaissance force officer” in Kurdistan and Azarbaijan provinces where government forces and Kurdish groups clashed in the 1980s.

A day after the program aired, Shahbazi wrote on his website that he had not named anyone in his account to VOA, which he accused of political motivation for misquoting him.

Pashaei has been active in the United for Navid campaign, named after 27-year-old wrestler Navid Afkari who was executed in Iran in September 2020 after conviction for killing a security agent during 2018 unrest in Esfahan. The campaign has called for the banning of the Iranian Judo Federation and for the suspension of the Iranian chess team if it continued to boycott Israel.

While the German and Norwegian football teams have drawn attention to claims that 6,500 construction workers have died in Qatar building facilities for the 2022 World Cup, the whole relationship between sport and human rights is fraught. Amnesty International last year condemned the US State Department for labelling as ‘anti-Semitic’ campaigns for boycotts, including in sports, of Israel over its occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Amnesty groups also took a lead last year in the UK in resisting a £300-million buy-out of Newcastle football club by a Saudi-led consortium.

A British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National and journalist at Iran International
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