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Iranian wrestler executed for murder, despite global calls for his release

US President Donald Trump had tried to save Navid Afkari’s life, arguing that his “sole act was an anti-government demonstration”.

Champion wrestler Navid Afkari.
Champion wrestler Navid Afkari.
Image: Twitter/UN Watch

IRAN HAS SAID it executed a young wrestler over the murder of a public sector worker during anti-government protests in 2018, despite international and social media calls for his release.

Navid Afkari was executed in the morning at a prison in the southern city of Shiraz, provincial prosecutor general Kazem Mousavi was quoted as saying on state television’s website.

The 27-year-old had been found guilty of “voluntary homicide” for stabbing to death Hossein Torkman, a water department worker, on 2 August 2018, according to the judiciary.

Shiraz and several other urban centres across the Islamic republic had been the scene that day of anti-government protests and demonstrations over economic and social hardship.

But reports published abroad say Afkari was condemned on the basis of confessions aired on television after being extracted under torture, prompting online campaigns of support for his release.

London-based rights group Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Iran to stop broadcasting videos of “confessions” by suspects, saying they “violate the defendants’ rights”.

The judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency denied the accusations.

According to Amnesty, Afkari’s last contact with his family was a short phone call on 6 September.

His two brothers Vahid and Habib are still detained at the same prison as him, the group said in a statement.

The sentence had been carried out at “the insistence of the victim’s family”, said Mousavi, the prosecutor general for Fars province.

Afkari’s lawyer, Hassan Younessi, said that a number of people in Shiraz were to meet with the worker’s family tomorrow to ask for their forgiveness.

He also said that based on criminal law in Iran “the convict has a right to meet his family before the execution”.

Were you in such a hurry to carry out the sentence that you deprived Navid of his last visit?

Online reaction

US President Donald Trump had pleaded for Afkari’s life earlier this month, saying his “sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets”.

“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump has maintained an aggressive approach of “maximum pressure” toward longtime US foe Iran since becoming president, enacting crippling economic sanctions after withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran and world powers in 2018.

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A global union representing 85,000 athletes had also called on Iran to spare the wrestler’s life.

In a statement issued on Tuesday on its website, World Players United called on the International Olympic Committee to use its leverage to help Afkari.

The Persian hashtagh #Navid_Afkari was also being widely used on Twitter to protest the execution.

Iranian rights activist Emaddein Baghi tweeted that Afkari’s execution was a “great sin” as the judiciary should have tried to persuade the murdered man’s family to forgive the wrestler.

Lawyer Babak Paknia also criticised the judiciary for its “haste” to carry out the sentence.

“Even if a murder had really ocurred, is it not the judicial system’s procedure to do all that is possible to receive forgiveness?” he tweeted.

Paknia represents three men sentenced to death over links to similar protests in November, but the trio’s execution was halted over a request to the supreme court to review the verdict.

Amnesty said Iran executed at least 251 people last year, the world’s second highest toll after China.

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