Iranian champion wrestler Navid Afkari has been executed in Iran on Saturday, according to Iran’s state-run news agency IRNA, despite a high-profile international campaign calling for the sentence not to be carried out.
The 27-year-old was executed at a prison in Shiraz, according to IRNA. He had been sentenced to death in relation to the murder of the Iranian government’s water and sewage department’s security agent Hasan Turkman during the August 2018 protests in Shiraz, according to Iran’s state media Mizan.
The International Olympic Committee said it was “shocked” by the announcement. “In letters, Thomas Bach, the IOC President, had made direct personal appeals to the Supreme Leader and to the President of Iran this week and asked for mercy for Navid Afkari, while respecting the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the statement said.
“It is deeply upsetting that the pleas of athletes from around the world and all the behind-the-scenes work of the IOC, together with the NOC of Iran, United World Wrestling and the National Iranian Wrestling Federation, did not achieve our goal.”
Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hossein Esmaeili was quoted by the Tehran Municipality’s daily newspaper Hamshari as saying on Wednesday that Afkari has been sentenced to the Islamic verdict of ghesas [qisas] or “retribution-in-kind.”
According to Hamshari, Esmaeili said Afkari was required to appease the victim’s family by paying a restitution. If he was unable to do so, the judiciary would be required to carry out the death sentence, because the case had already been reviewed by the Supreme Court and because the courts said he had already confessed to killing Hassan Turkman.
Irna reported on Saturday that Afkari was executed after the victim’s family refused to forgive him and allow him to pay restitutions.
Afkari’s lawyer Hassan Younesi told CNN that philanthropists had gone to the city of Shiraz and were trying to raise money to pay the restitution, but it was too late – the Shiraz judiciary informed Afkari’s family the sentence was already carried out and they didn’t get to say goodbye.
The World Players Association, an international body that represents professional athletes, had protested the sentence and called for Iran to be threatened with expulsion from international sport, including from the Olympic movement, if the execution was carried out.
“Navid was one of thousands of Iranian citizens who took part in spontaneous demonstrations that year against economic hardship and political repression in Iran,” said a statement from the WPA. “However, he has been unjustly targeted by the Iranian authorities who want to make an example out of a popular, high-profile athlete and intimidate others who might dare exercise their human right to participate in peaceful protest.”
WPA said in the statement that Afkari was “sentenced to death twice after being tortured into making a false confession.”
Addressing the protests, Esmaeili said, according to the Tehran newspaper, that the campaign aimed at stopping the execution led the judiciary to provide a videotaped confession and re-enactments carried out by Afkari himself to Iranian State TV IRIB.
Afkari’s case sparked interest beyond the sports circles. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for an international intervention and a new trial.
US President Donald Trump got involved last week, asking the Iranian leaders last to spare Afkari’s life. “Hearing that Iran is looking to execute a great and popular wrestling star, 27-year-old Navid Afkari, whose sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets. They were protesting the ‘country’s worsening economic situation and inflation’,” Trump tweeted.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!,” he added.