TEHRAN — Iran’s state TV is reporting that the country’s authorities has executed a wrestler for allegedly murdering a man after President Donald Trump asked for the 27-year-old condemned man’s life to be spared.
State TV quoted the chief justice of Fars province, Kazem Mousavi as saying on Saturday: “The retaliation sentence against Navid Afkari, the killer of Hassan Turkman, was carried out this morning in Adelabad prison in Shiraz.”
Afkari’s case had drawn the attention of a social media campaign that portrayed him and his brothers as victims targeted over participating in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018. Authorities accused Afkari of stabbing a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz amid the unrest.
Iran broadcast the wrestler’s televised confession last week. The segment resembled hundreds of other suspected coerced confessions aired over the last decade in the Islamic Republic.
The case revived a demand inside the country for Iran to stop carrying out the death penalty. Even imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, herself nearly a month into a hunger strike over conditions at Tehran’s Evin prison amid the coronavirus pandemic, passed word that she supported Afkari.
Earlier this month, President Trump pleaded for Iran to spare Afkari’s life, saying in a tweet: “… To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!”
Trump’s plea came after UFC president Dana White, a longtime friend and ally of Trump’s who spoke at both the 2016 and 2020 Republican National Conventions, posted a video to Instagram pleading for Afkari’s release.
Judiciary authorities in Iran say Afkari was sentenced to death for the death of Hassan Torkaman, a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz, following an anti-government protest over economic problems.
A provincial court in Shiraz sentenced Afkari to death and his brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively. All three were construction workers.
The July verdicts that were reported in August prompted an outcry both in Iran and internationally.
The Afkaris’ mother, Behieh Namjou, in a video that circulated on social media, claimed the three men confessed to the killing under torture. She pleaded to authorities for mercy for her children.
The news website of Iran’s judiciary, Mizanonline, on Monday denied Afkari had been tortured and called the Greco-Roman wrestler a “murderer of an innocent citizen.”
Hassan Younesi, Afkari’s lawyer, told the semiofficial ILNA news agency that there is no evidence showing Afkari had a role the victim’s death and has requested a retrial.
In 2018, protests broke out in several Iranian cities over the country’s falling currency and economic woes that led to a violent encounter between police and protesters. It came after Trump in May that year pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers and imposed sanctions on Iran that has sent the country’s economy into free fall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.