Iran executes wrestler who made purported confession of murder

Official says Navid Afkari killed at Adelabad prison in Shiraz; wrestler reportedly forced to say he carried out 2018 killing; Trump had called on Tehran to release him

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari. (screenshot)
Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari. (screenshot)

Iran’s state TV reported on Saturday that the country’s authorities executed a wrestler for allegedly murdering a man after he purportedly confessed to the crime.

State TV quoted the chief justice of Fars province, Kazem Mousavi as saying on Saturday: “The retaliation sentence against Navid Afkari, the killer of Hassan Turkman, was carried out this morning in Adelabad prison in Shiraz.”

Afkari 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.

Illustrative — Iranian protesters block a road during a demonstration against an increase in gasoline prices in the central city of Shiraz on November 16, 2019. (AFP)

In video footage aired by Iranian state TV last week, Afkari could be seen apparently confessing to the crime.

The segment resembled hundreds of other suspected coerced confessions aired over the last decade in the Islamic Republic.

In the footage, 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 the Reuters news agency.

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.

Afkari’s case had drawn the attention of a social media campaign that portrayed him and his brothers as victims targeted over participating in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018.

According to Amnesty International, the wrestler’s 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 murder, as well as “national security” offences.

The case revived a demand inside the country for Iran to stop carrying out the death penalty.

File photo of Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh in her office in Tehran, Iran on November 1, 2008. (AP/Arash Ashourinia)

Imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, herself nearly a month into a hunger strike over conditions at Tehran’s Evin prison amid the coronavirus pandemic, passed word that she supported Afkari.

US President Donald Trump tweeted out his own concern about Afkari’s case.

“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Trump wrote last week. “Thank you!”

Iran responded to Trump’s tweet with a nearly 11-minute state TV package on Afkari. It included the weeping parents of the slain water company employee, Hassan Torkaman.

The package included footage of Afkari on the back of a motorbike, saying he had stabbed Torkaman in the back, without explaining why he allegedly carried out the assault.

The state TV segment showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a “personal dispute,” without elaborating. It said Afkari’s cellphone had been in the area and it showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, September 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Also, Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency dismissed Trump’s tweet in a feature story, saying that American sanctions have hurt Iranian hospitals amid the pandemic.

“Trump is worried about the life of a murderer while he puts many Iranian patients’ lives in danger by imposing severe sanctions,” the agency said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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