September 4, 2020

By BBC News

US President Donald Trump has called on Iran to overturn a death sentence passed down on a champion wrestler who took part in protests two years ago.

“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday.

Navid Afkari, 27, was handed two death sentences over the murder of a security guard during protests in Shiraz.

But there are concerns his confession was extracted under torture.

His brothers Vahid and Habib were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison in the same case, according to human rights activists in Iran.

Citing a Fox News report, Mr Trump said the wrestler’s “sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets”.

Earlier in the day, US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortegus tweeted: “We join the world in outrage at the Iranian regime’s death sentence for Navid Afkari, who was tortured into giving a false confession after participating in peaceful protests in 2018.”

“The regime also tortured his two brothers and sentenced them to decades in prison. Let them go!”

A number of international wrestling figures and activists have also called for the brothers’ release, and a petition calling for Afkari’s life to be spared has been signed more than 10,000 times.

An Iranian state television-linked news agency confirmed Thursday that Navid Afkari had been sentenced to death.

But in a audio recording leaked from the prison where he is being held, Afkari said he had been tortured. His mother, meanwhile, has said her sons were forced to testify against each other under torture.

The brothers’ lawyer, Hassan Younesi, said on Twitter that contrary to Iranian news reports, there was no video of the moment of the security guard’s killing. He added that footage used as evidence in the case was taken an hour before the crime took place.

In 2018, protesters in cities across Iran took to the streets over economic hardship and political repression.

Further demonstrations took place late last year in protest against fuel price rises.

More than 7,000 people, including children as young as 10, were arrested in the crackdown that followed the 2019 unrest, according to Amnesty International.