[Representational image]Creative Commons

Famed wrestling champion Navid Afkari was executed after being accused of killing a security guard during anti-government protests in 2018, state media reported on Saturday. Afkari's death sentence drew global criticism and world leaders, including US President Donald Trump and various sports associations urged the government not to execute the champion wrestler. But Iran paid no heed to those sentiments and went ahead with the execution of the Iranian champion wrestler.

According to the head of the justice department in the southern Fars province, Afkari's execution came after legal procedures at the insistence of the parents and family of the victim, Reuters reported.

Navid Afkari's sentencing

Afkari was arrested on September 17, 2018 and was given a double death sentence in connection of the murder of a government employee, which happened in August 2018 in the city of Shiraz. His sentencing also included six years and six months of imprisonment and 74 lashes.

Afkari's mother, in an emotional video, denounced the sham trial against her sons, which include Afkari's two other brothers who have also been arrested and face criminal charges. His brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari were sentenced to 56 years and six months in prison, and 24 years and three months in prison respectively, and 74 lashes each, in connection with the same murder.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reportedly wrote a secret letter to US President Barack Obama.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali KhameneiReuters

On September 5, 2020, Afkari's forced confession was aired on state television, a move trying to justify the death sentence. A day later, Afkari had called his family and informed them that he was being held in Adelabad prison in the city of Shiraz with high security and harsh conditions. The call was soon cut off.

As the voices grew louder to free Afkari, even the president of the United States, Donald Trump, had urged to the leaders of Iran to "spare this young man'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. To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man's life, and not execute him. Thank you!" Trump had tweeted.

But Iran ignored all calls for mercy towards Afkari, who was said to be framed and thought to be used to make an example out of him.

"Navid was one of thousands of Iranian citizens who took part in spontaneous demonstrations that year against economic hardship and political repression in Iran. 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," World Players Association (WPA) said in a statement.