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Explained: Here’s why Iran executed wrestling champion Navid Afkari

Navid Afkari was given two death sentences -- one for retribution in kind by a criminal court and another for enmity against God, which was given by a Revolutionary Court.

Written by Mehr Gill , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 17, 2020 9:37:38 am
In this June 25, 2018 file photo, a group of protesters chant slogans after Iran broadcast the televised confession of the wrestler facing the death penalty. (Iranian Labor News Agency via AP, File)

Iran on Saturday executed wrestling champion Navid Afkari, who was convicted of stabbing to death a security guard during the anti-government protests of 2018. According to information released by the state media, Afkari, 27, was executed by hanging in the city of Shiraz.

What were the charges against Navid Afkari?

Afkari was arrested on September 17, 2018 and was given two death sentences – one for retribution in kind by a criminal court and another sentence for enmity against God, which was given by a Revolutionary Court.

Both these death sentences were connected to the murder of a security agent that took place on August 2, 2018 in Shiraz. Afkari’s brothers Vahid and Habib Afkari were sentenced to 56 years and six months and 24 years and three months in prison, respectively and 74 lashes each in connection with the same case. All three brothers have denied these allegations. Late in August, Iran confirmed Afkari’s death sentence for participating in the protests.

Iran saw massive anti-government protests that began in December 2017 in which protestors called for an end to the Islamic regime highlighting their inability to revive the economy and failure to address unemployment and inflation in the country.

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In a voice recording of Afkari from inside the prison, which was released by the group Amnesty International, Afkari 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.”

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Further, as per Amnesty, Afkari made a call to his family on September 6, where he said that he was being held in a wing of the Adelabad prison in the city of Shiraz, before his call was cut off. On September 5, Afkari’s forced confession was aired on Iranian state TV in a propaganda video that tried to justify his death sentence.

What has been the response to Navid Afkari’s execution?

There was considerable international pressure on Iran to not go ahead with the death sentence. Following his execution, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in a statement that it was “shocked” by the news and mentioned that the IOC president had made personal appeals to the Supreme Leader and President of Iran to ask for mercy for Afkari. “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,” the statement read.

Last week, US president Donald Trump asked Iranian leaders to not carry out the execution. He tweeted, “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’”.

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“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 said.

Iranian journalist and activist, Masih Alinejad took to Twitter after Afkari was executed and said, “We Iranian people are furious because the Islamic Republic killed one of us for the crime of protesting and this is not acceptable in 21st Century.” She demanded that Iran be boycotted from sporting events.

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