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Iran executes young wrestler Navid Afkari despite international appeals

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Demonstraters against the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari gather outside the Iranian embassy in London on September 12, 2020.
Demonstraters against the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari gather outside the Iranian embassy in London on September 12, 2020.   -   Copyright  Justin Tallis/AFP
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Iran has executed a young wrestler for allegedly murdering a man, according to reports on Saturday by the country's state TV, despite an international outcry to stop the controversial execution.

According to a statement, the sentence against Navid Afkari, 27, was carried out on Saturday morning in Adel Abad prison in the southern city of 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 Shiraz amid the unrest.

The case revived a demand inside the country to stop carrying out the death penalty.

It also sparked international outrage, including calls for clemency from global sporting bodies like the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Earlier this month, US president Donald Trump tweeted about his concerns involving Afkari’s case.

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

Iran responded with a nearly 11-minute state TV package on Afkari.

It included the weeping parents of the slain water company employee, Hassan Torkaman.

The package also contained footage of Afkari on the back of a motorbike, saying he had stabbed Torkaman in the back, without explaining why he allegedly carried out the assault.

The state TV segment showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a “personal dispute,” without elaborating.

It said Afkari’s cellphone had been in the area and it showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.

In a statement, Amnesty International had called for international pressure on Iran to reveal the whereabouts and fate of the brothers before the news of Afkari's execution was announced.

“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.

In the wake of the news of the wrestler's execution, the IOC said it was "shocked" by the event.

"It is deeply regrettable that the appeals of athletes around the world, and all the behind-the-scenes work of the IOC, with the Iranian National Olympic Committee, the International Wrestling Federation and the Iranian Wrestling Federation, did not achieve their goal," the IOC said.

"The execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari is very sad news," it added.