Iran has executed a wrestler accused of murder, state media report, defying international appeals for him to be spared.
Navid Afkari, 27, was sentenced to death over the murder of a security guard during a wave of anti-government protests in 2018. He said he had been tortured into making a confession. A union representing 85,000 athletes worldwide was among those to call for a stay of execution. The World Players Association said he had been “unjustly targeted” for taking part in the protests, and called for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it went ahead with the execution. US President Donald Trump also appealed for mercy, saying the wrestler’s “sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets”. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) called his execution “very sad news” and said their thoughts were with his family and friends. “It is deeply upsetting that the pleas of athletes from around the world and all the behind-the-scenes work of the IOC… did not achieve our goal,” their statement said. Afkari was executed by hanging in the southern city of Shiraz, state media report. His brothers Vahid and Habib were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison in the same case, according to human rights activists in Iran.
In an audio recording leaked from the prison where he is being held, Afkari said he had been tortured. His mother said her sons were forced to testify against each other. The brothers’ lawyer, Hassan Younesi, said on Twitter that contrary to Iranian news reports, there was no video of the moment of the security guard’s killing. He added that footage used as evidence in the case was taken an hour before the crime took place. The Iranian authorities have denied accusations of torture. Afkari was a national champion in wrestling, a sport that has a long history and is hugely popular in Iran. In 2018, protesters in cities across Iran took to the streets over economic hardship and political repression.