Iranian officials said they have identified the “Iran International agent” arrested Thursday as Elham Afkari, the sister of famous Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed two years ago, according to state news agency IRNA.
The opposition television broadcaster, which was called a “terrorist” organization by the Iranian intelligence minister on Tuesday, has denied any association with Elham.
In a statement sent to CNN, the London-based broadcaster said Elham “is not an employee of Iran International, nor is she an associate or agent of the company.”
Her brother, Navid Afkari, was convicted of killing Hassan Torkman, a water company security employee, during a protest in Shiraz in 2018.
Initially, Afkari confessed to the crime, but in court he retracted those words, arguing that he had been tortured into making a false confession.
“It should be noted that she [Elham Afkari] is the sister of Navid Afkari, the killer of martyr Torkman, an employee of the regional water company of Fars province,” IRNA reported.
“Intelligence operatives have been monitoring the activities of Elham Afkari for the past few years,” IRNA said, adding that “she was one of the main leaders in organizing recent riots.”
State media shared pictures allegedly showing Elham’s arrest. The pictures show a woman seated in the backseat of a vehicle with barred windows, with a black blindfold over her face.
Saeed Afkari, Elham and Navid’s brother, confirmed his sister’s arrest on Twitter on Thursday, saying that Elham’s three-year-old daughter was also missing.
He later said Elham had been taken to a department of Iran’s intelligence ministry, and that his sister’s spouse and daughter had been released.
“Elham was taken to No.100 intelligence ministry department,” he tweeted.
Since Navid Afkari was executed, his family has faced many court cases over involvement in the demonstrations in 2018.
Vahid Afkari, one of his brothers, remains in solitary confinement, according to the rights group Iran Human Rights.
Founded in 2017, Iran International has been at the forefront of covering recent demonstrations following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini – a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman detained by morality police for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly.
However, the 24-hour news channel’s coverage of the demonstrations has brought it under the scrutiny of the Iranian government.
This week, Iran International said two of its British-Iranian journalists working in the United Kingdom have been warned by police of a “credible” plot by Iran to kill them.
In a statement Monday, the Farsi-language broadcaster said it was “shocked and deeply concerned” by the alleged lethal threats, while accusing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of being part of a “significant and dangerous escalation” of Tehran’s “campaign to intimidate Iranian journalists working abroad.”
“Two of our British-Iranian journalists have, in recent days, been notified of an increase in the threats to them,” Iran International said in the statement.
“The Metropolitan Police have now formally notified both journalists that these threats represent an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families.”
Iran International did not name the journalists for security reasons.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said that as of Monday at least 61 journalists have been arrested in Iran for reasons including covering the protests, reporting on the death of protesters, and taking photos of demonstrations, according to a report from the organization.