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Iran executes champion wrestler despite pleas from President Trump and Dana White to spare his life


The wrestler was convicted of a stabbing during anti-government protests, but his family say he was tortured into making a false confession


An Iranian champion wrestler has been executed despite international outcries and pleas from President Donald Trump and UFC president Dana White to spare his life.

Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler, participated in anti-government protests against Iran's Shia theocracy in 2018. Iranian authorities accused Afkari of stabbing a water supply company security guard in the southern city of Shiraz during the civil unrest.

Iranian officials claim that Afkari's mobile phone had been in the area where Hassan Turkman was murdered. Authorities alleged there is surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone, near the crime scene. Iranian authorities claimed Afkari stabbed Turkman in the back over a "personal dispute," without elaborating.

In July, Afkari was convicted in the murder of Turkman, and hit with other charges. A provincial court in Shiraz sentenced Afkari to death for the murder.

The wrestler's brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, as well as 74 lashes for each man. The Afkari brothers were charged with 20 different crimes, including "attending illegal gatherings, assembly and conspiracy to commit crimes against national security and insulting the supreme leader." Iran's Supreme Court rejected a review of the case in late August.

Iran broadcast the wrestler's confession on state TV last week. The mother of the brothers, Behieh Namjou, claimed that the three men confessed to the killing under torture. She pleaded for mercy from authorities for her children.

Afkari's death sentence caused international outcry for the wrestler to be spared from the death penalty.

"These brothers are the latest victims of Iran's deeply flawed criminal justice system, and their case is further evidence that Iranian courts systematically rely on 'confessions' obtained under torture and other ill-treatment to secure criminal convictions, in contravention of international law," said Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Amnesty International is calling on the international community, including UN human rights bodies and EU member states, to urgently intervene and demand the Iranian authorities immediately reveal the fate and whereabouts of these three brothers and to save Navid Afkari from execution," Eltahawy said on Friday.

Iranian actress and human rights defender Nazanin Boniadi brought awareness to Afkari's case.

UFC President Dana White wrote, "Iran, please spare Navid Afkari."

"This week the New York Times wrote a story about a very famous wrestler from Iran – his name is Navid Afkari," White says in the video. "He went to a peaceful protest in Iran, and he is gonna be executed for that."

"It was brought to my attention. This guys is – first of all he is human being," White continued. "Number two he is one of us, could be any of my fighters."

"The only I thing I thought to do is to call the President [Donald Trump] and see if he could help this man," White revealed. "He said 'let us look into it, we'll talk to my administration and see if there is something we can do to save his life.'"

President Donald Trump pleaded for Iran to not execute Afkari.

"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," President Trump tweeted on Sept. 3. "They were protesting the 'country's worsening economic situation and inflation' To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man's life, and not execute him. Thank you!"

On Tuesday, a global union representing 85,000 athletes called for Iran's expulsion from international sports competitions if it executed Afkari, according to Reuters.

Navid Afkari was executed on Saturday, according to Iranian state media.

"The retaliation sentence against Navid Afkari, the killer of Hassan Turkman, was carried out this morning in Adelabad prison in Shiraz," said the chief justice of Fars province, Kazem Mousavi, on Iranian state TV on Saturday. Mousavi said the execution occurred "after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim."

Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad wrote, "In a taped message from inside the prison, Navid said: 'If I'm hanged, know that an innocent man has been killed.'"

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