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Iran executes champion wrestler Navid Afkari, 27, ‘tortured into confessing to killing guard’ in anti-Government protest

IRAN has executed a champion wrestler it accused of murdering a riot cop — in defiance of world-wide appeals to spare his life. 

Navid Afkari, 27, who was accused of killing a state security guard during the anti-government protests in the summer of 2018, was hanged in Shiraz.  

The International Olympic Committee has described reports confirming the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari as “deeply upsetting” amid mounting calls for sporting sanctions.

The World Players Association meanwhile 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.

It comes as a voice recording emerged from inside prison was released, in which he said: “If I am executed, I want you to know that an innocent person, even though he tried and fought with all his strength to be heard, was executed.”

The IRGC backed Tansim News Agency in Iran quoted the Chief of Fars Province Justice Department as saying that Afkari’s death sentence was carried out “due to the insistence of the family of the victim”.  

In Iranian law the family of a murder victim has the right to forgive or insist on capital punishment.  

On August 29, Iranian human rights activists reported that the Supreme Court had confirmed the death sentence of Afkari.

The world class wrestler first confessed to the killing of the state security agent but later said he had made the confession under immense physical and psychological duress.  

According to the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Navid and his brother Vahid Afkari were severely tortured to give confessions.

They had a testimony of witnesses about their beatings and torture were even referenced in the case, but the court ignored the testimonies and sentenced him to a double death sentence. 

His brothers Vahid and Habib were reportedly sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison in the same case.

If I am executed, I want you to know that an innocent person, even though he tried and fought with all his strength to be heard, was executed

Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “A series of judges in different courts used forced ‘confessions’ obtained under torture to convict him, and consistently failed to investigate his complaints of torture.

“Leaked voice recordings of him in court expose how his pleas for judges to investigate his torture complaints and bring another detainee who had witnessed his torture to testify were unlawfully and cruelly ignored.

“Given the impunity which prevails in Iran, we urge the international community, including UN human rights bodies and EU member states, to take strong action through public and private interventions.

“We deplore the Iranian authorities’ repeated use of the death penalty, which has earned it the shameful status of consistently being among the world’s most prolific executioners.”

Afkari was a national champion in wrestling which is hugely popular in Iran.

Thousands of Iranians protested the harsh sentence on social media and launched hashtags to force the authorities not to carry out the death penalty.  

US President Donald Trump had also appealed for mercy, saying the wrestler’s “sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets”.

Iran is second after China in the world in executing drug offenders and people accused of murder. 

But this case is seen as carrying out a death sentence for political reasons. 

Afkari’s lawyer Ali Younesi last week said Navid had been removed from Adelabad Prison of Shiraz to an unknown location.  

Navid was originally arrested alongside his two brothers Vahid and Habib in August 2018, and was charged by the Revolutionary Court of Shiraz with “taking up arms against the regime.” 

Lawyers and human rights defenders say the government had no material evidence of murder against Afkari and resorted to tactics to get a forced confession for the death penalty.  

Editor of Iran International TV, Sadeq Saba said: “Afkari’s case is really, really upsetting for everybody. He was a national hero and we don’t even know the circumstances of his participation in the demonstrations.”  

He added: “The worst thing Akfari could’ve done was sympathising with his friends’, family’s and compatriots’ economic situations, but the way the regime has responded to these demonstrations is horrible — pure brutality.”

“This is the action of a regime that’s frightened. The only way it can deal with a situation like this is brute force.”

The chief method used by Iran is hanging.

This is not done on a drop, where death comes quick after the neck is broken. 

Sometimes executions are carried out behind closed doors.

But often they take place in public and construction cranes are used. 

The condemned person is hoisted up on a neck noose and essentially strangled in a slow and agonising way.

Crowds are encouraged to watch and some executions are televised. 

Afterwards the family of the execution victims are reportedly forced to pay for the noose and are not given the bodies until they pay up. 

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