US President Donald Trump has pleaded for Iran to spare the life of a ‘great and popular wrestling star’ condemned to death after being convicted of murder.
Navid Afkarai, 27, was found guilty of the ‘voluntary homicide’ of a water department worker in Shiraz, southern Iran, who was stabbed to death on August 2, 2018, according the judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency.
‘Hearing that Iran is looking to execute a great and popular wrestling star, 27-year-old Navid Afkarai, whose sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets,’ Trump tweeted in a rare direct appeal to the Iranian government.
‘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 tweeted, tagging a Fox News story on the wrestler and the UFC mixed martial arts organization and its president Dana White.
Trump is a longtime fan of watching various forms of wrestling and is close to Ms White.
However, he has taken an aggressive approach to longtime US foe Iran since becoming president, enacting crippling sanctions.
An Iranian state television-linked news agency reported Thursday that Afkari had been sentenced to death.
Anti-government protests and demonstrations over economic and social hardship were held in Shiraz and several other urban centres across the country in 2018.
Reports published abroad say Afkari, aged 27, was condemned on the basis of confessions extracted under torture, prompting online campaigns of support for his release.
The Young Journalists Club (YJC) said the wrestler who competed in national tournaments, was convicted on the basis of ‘qisas’, the Islamic law of retribution.
According to media close to Iran’s conservative camp, several religious establishments were attacked in ‘rioting’ by demonstrators.
Mizan on Wednesday denied the charge.
Afkari’s lawyer, Hassan Younessi, said the ruling had been approved by Iran’s supreme court and could not be appealed, but he would seek a retrial on the basis of new information, YJC reported.
The lawyer said the ruling was made without any proof presented in court, although Mizan said surveillance video had identified Afkari as the perpetrator.
London-based rights group Amnesty International said Iran executed at least 251 people last year, the world’s second highest toll after China.
Iran‘s Supreme Court confirmed two death sentences for Navid Afkari along with six years and six months in prison and 74 lashes, according to Persian-language broadcaster Iran International on Tuesday.
His brother, Vahid Afkari, received a prison sentence of 54 years, while a third brother, Habib, was given 27 years and both will receive 74 lashes.
Iran’s judiciary charged the brothers with 20 different crimes including ‘attending illegal gatherings, assembly and conspiracy to commit crimes against national security, and insulting the supreme leader.’
A source close to the brothers said Navid, who has no prior criminal record, and his siblings had joined in the protests ‘so the judiciary deemed the participation of all three brothers as the organisation of a group’.
It is not clear why two death sentences were handed down to the same person.
Iran International reported that Navid and Vahid Afkari were severely tortured to give confessions.
The US government made similar claims, alleging that ‘Khamenei’s thugs tortured Navid to the point that he confessed to fake crimes’.
‘Those who were not satisfied with trampling on Navid’s human dignity have now sentenced him to death,’ a Persian-language statement said.
The court even heard testimony from witnesses who described the beatings and torture, it is claimed, but judges ignored it.
An Iranian opposition group quoted their mother Bahieh Namjou as saying the brothers had been arrested by plain-clothes officers without a warrant.
British-Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi pleaded with Iran not to execute the brothers, saying: ‘Champion wrestler Navid Afkari has been sentenced to death for participating in anti-government protests in Iran.
‘Those close to him have said he was subjected to a forced confession under torture. Stop executions in Iran.’
On Wednesday, Amnesty International accused Iran‘s security forces of using torture to extract confessions, saying hundreds of people have been jailed since a sweeping crackdown against protests last year.
Demonstrations erupted across Iran in November 2019 after a major petrol price hike, but they were put down by security forces with mass arrests amid a near-total internet blackout.
Amnesty said it had gathered dozens of testimonies from the 7,000 people it estimated were arrested, which included children as young as 10.
The accounts reveal ‘a catalogue of shocking human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment’, the London-based human rights group said.
Torture techniques included water boarding, beating, electric shocks, pepper spraying genitals, sexual violence, mock executions and pulling out finger and toe nails, Amnesty reported.
Those arrested were tortured into ‘confessions’ of involvement in the protests, membership of opposition groups or contact with foreign governments and media, it added.
Torture and other ill-treatment by police, intelligence operatives and others ‘was widespread’, the rights group said.
Amnesty said it had recorded the names of more than 500 people ‘subjected to unfair criminal proceedings in connection with the protests’.