In video footage aired by Iranian state TV Saturday, a champion wrestler condemned to death after being convicted of murder could be seen apparently confessing to the crime.
Navid Afkarai had been found guilty of the “voluntary homicide” of a water department worker, Hassan Turkman, in Shiraz, southern Iran, who was stabbed to death on August 2, 2018.
Shiraz and several other urban centers across Iran were the scene that day of anti-government protests and demonstrations over economic and social hardship.
Reports published abroad said Afkari, 27, was condemned on the basis of confessions extracted under torture, prompting online campaigns of support for his release.
In the footage aired Saturday, Afkari could be seen making a stabbing gesture during a police reconstruction of Turkman’s killing.
“I hit twice, once and then again,” he said, according to Reuters.
The TV station also showed what it said was a written confession by the wrestler. However, Afkari, in a recording shared on social media, could be heard saying he was forced to sign it.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump joined the international campaign to free Afkari.
“Hearing that Iran is looking to execute a great and popular wrestling star, 27-year-old Navid Afkarai, whose sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets,” Trump tweeted in a rare direct appeal to the Iranian government.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!”
AFP contributed to this report.