Iran has executed a champion wrestler who claimed he was tortured into making a televised false confession in a case that sparked an international outcry.
Navid Afkari, 27, was hanged at Adelabad Prison in Shiraz after he was convicted of stabbing to death a water company security guard during anti-government protests in August 2018, state media said on Saturday.
Afkari was executed “this morning after legal procedures were carried out at the insistence of the parents and the family of the victim,” the media quoted the head of the justice department in the southern Fars province as saying.
Afkari, who was handed two death sentences, had said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists, and his attorney says there is no proof of his guilt. His supporters described him as a “political prisoner”.
His attorney, Hassan Younesi, accused authorities of denying his client a family visit before the execution, as required by law.
Iran’s judiciary has denied the torture claims, and the country’s Supreme Court rejected a review of the case in late August.
Afkari’s brothers, Vahid and Habib, were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison in the same case, according to human rights activists in Iran. Their mum has said her sons were forced to testify against each other under torture.
Amnesty International had warned on Friday that Afkari was at “imminent risk of being executed in secret”, adding that Afkari made a brief phone call to his family on September 6 to say he was being held at Adelabad Prison, which has “high security and harsh conditions”.
It had called on UN human rights bodies and EU member states to “urgently intervene” to help “save Navid Afkari from execution”.
A global union representing 85,000 athletes called on Tuesday for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari. The IOC, which had said it was trying to “facilitate a solution”, has faced pressure to kick Iran out of the Olympics.
US President Donald Trump also called on Iran this month not to execute the wrestler, tweeting: “To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him.”
A spokesperson for the Iran Human Rights Monitor (IHRM) said: “Navid Afkari was executed this morning in Adelabad Prison of Shiraz.
“His family were told that he had been hanged.
“Despite widespread international outcries in Iran and around the world to stop his execution, the Iranian regime hanged the young Iran protester in a bid to prevent further protests against the regime.
“Navid Afkari, 27, was a wrestling champion who had never hurt anybody.”
Afkari, a national champion wrestler, was accused of killing security guard Hassan Turkman during the August 2018 protests in Shiraz. In a report on its website, the IHRM described Turkman as an agent with Basij.
The protests took place during some of the worst unrest in a decade over economic hardships. Iran’s clerical rulers have blamed the street protests what they call “thugs” linked to exiles and foreign foes – the United States and Israel.
Iranian state television aired a video last week in which Afkari appeared to confess to Turkman’s killing.
The report also showed what appeared to be written confessions by Afkari, but he said in a recording circulated on social media that he was coerced into signing the documents.
“I hit twice, once and then again,” Afkari was shown saying with a stabbing gesture during a police reconstruction of the killing.
His lawyer had said previously there was no video of the moment the security guard was killed, and footage used as evidence against the brothers was recorded an hour before the stabbing.
In September 2019, Afkari filed a complaint with Iran’s judiciary saying he was forced to give a false confession during “the most severe physical and psychological torture” as he spent almost 50 days in police custody.
In an open letter, he wrote: “They put a plastic bag over my head and almost suffocated me. Using batons and other hard objects, they beat hard on my hands, abdomen, and legs.
“They used foul language and insulted me frequently. They tied me tight and poured alcohol down my nostrils.”
According to the IHRM, Afkari had said the Coroner’s Office in Shiraz examined his injuries that were caused under torture.
He said in an audio file shared on August 30 this year “The evidence is there if the court wants to investigate (the acts of torture)…
“There is not one shred of evidence in this damned case that shows I am guilty. But they did not want to hear our voice.
“Then, I learned that they are looking for another head to hang from their noose.”
An IHRM spokesperson added: “Iran Human Rights Monitor strongly denounces the execution of Iran protester Navid Afkari and calls on international human rights organizations to take action to stop the killing of young Iranians for exercising their genuine right to freedom of expression.
“The Iranian regime must be held accountable for its mockery of justice and killing of Iran’s youth on unfounded allegations.”
The International Olympic Committee has described reports confirming the execution as “deeply upsetting” amid mounting calls for sporting sanctions.
Afkari’s death comes despite the attempted intervention of the IOC and the sport’s world governing body, United World Wrestling, with IOC president Thomas Bach having said on Wednesday that he was trying to “facilitate a solution”.
In a statement the IOC said: “The execution of wrestler Navid Afkari in Iran is very sad news. The IOC is shocked by this announcement today.
“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.
“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.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Navid Afkari.”
Last week Brendan Schwab, the executive director of the World Players Association, had insisted that, in executing Afkari, Iran would be “forfeiting its right to be a part of sport’s universal community”.
Schwab tweeted on Saturday: “@WorldPlayersUtd are aware of credible & heartbreaking reports that #NavidAfkari was executed despite the work of so many courageous champions of human rights in sport. We are seeking formal confirmation. If true, we are determined to ensure Navid did not lose his life in vain.”
The case renewed international calls for Iran to stop executing prisoners.
According to Amnesty International, which campaigns to abolish the death penalty, Iran is one of the world’s most prolific executioners.
It has said: “In 2019, most known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt – in that order.”