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US slaps sanctions on Iranians over execution of wrestler

Judges and prisons penalized for role in conviction and hanging of Navid Afkari, which drew international condemnation, as well as for persecution of Baha’i and other rights abuses

A woman holds a portrait of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari during a demonstration on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on September 13, 2020, against its execution in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz and against the Iranian government. (Evert Elzinga / ANP / AFP)
A woman holds a portrait of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari during a demonstration on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on September 13, 2020, against its execution in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz and against the Iranian government. (Evert Elzinga / ANP / AFP)

WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on an Iranian judge who sentenced a wrestler to death over his role in protests — an execution that triggered international outrage.

Navid Afkari, 27, who had won national competitions, was hanged earlier this month after being convicted of murder during demonstrations two years ago in the southern city of Shiraz. The execution was preceded by worldwide appeals for clemency, including from President Donald Trump.

The United States said it was taking action against Judge Seyyed Mahmoud Sadati, voicing alarm over allegations that Afkari was tortured in custody to force a confession.

“His killing was an unconscionable act,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Navid’s death must not be in vain.”

“The United States calls upon all nations to promote accountability for this regime by imposing sanctions like the ones announced today,” he added.

The State Department also imposed sanctions on Judge Mohammad Soltani over sentences handed to members of the Baha’i faith, which faces wide restrictions in Iran.

Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari. (screenshot)

“The actions taken today by the United States expose Iran’s Revolutionary courts and their judges for what they really are: tools designed to enforce the Iranian regime’s brutal ideology and suppress dissent,” Pompeo said.

Under the sanctions, the United States will freeze any assets on its territory linked to the two judges, as well as three prisons where Pompeo said human rights abuses were rampant.

The move also makes it a crime in the United States to conduct financial transactions with the two men.

Authorities accused Afkari of fatally stabbing a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz amid protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018.

His case had drawn attention after a social media campaign portrayed him and his brothers, who remain in prison, as victims who were targeted because they participated in the demonstrations.

Afkari’s execution triggered widespread revulsion including from countries that hope for a more stable relationship with Iran.

Iranian protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in central Tehran on June 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

Iran summoned Germany’s ambassador after the embassy tweeted that the execution violated Afkari’s legal rights and was meant to “silence opposing voices.”

The United States has tense relations with Iran’s clerical state and regularly highlights human rights concerns.

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