A union representing world athletes has called for Iran's expulsion from international wrestling if the country went ahead with the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari on Wednesday. Afkari's supporters accused the Islamic Republic of targeting him for participating in anti-government protests in 2018.
The World Players Association (WPA) issued a statement on Tuesday urging the Iranian judiciary to order a stay on Afkari's execution and clear him of murder charges. He was convicted of killing a security guard during the demonstrations. However, critics believe the government forced him to confess the murder, which his supporters believe he did not commit.
"Navid has been singled out, tortured and condemned to death because of his participation and success in sport. The horrific act of executing an athlete can only be regarded as a repudiation of the humanitarian values that underpin sport. It must result in Iran forfeiting its right to be a part of sport's universal community," Brendan Schwab, WPA's executive director said.
Schwab urged the International Olympic Committee to push Iran into dropping charges against Afkari. The IOC's executive board members are slated to meet on Wednesday, the same day Afkari is scheduled to be executed.
"It is imperative that the International Olympic Committee, as the 'supreme authority' of global sport, uses its leverage to demand that Iran abides by the IOC's international standards on human rights and humanitarian values, or else risk the ability to remain part of the Olympic Movement. United World Wrestling and other sports federations, including FIFA, likewise have influence over Iran and therefore the obligation to defend Navid as well," Schwab said.
Last Friday, US President Donald Trump requested Iran to halt Afkari's execution and "spare" his life. "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. 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 wrote in a tweet.
Who is Navid Afkari?
Afkari is a 27-year-old wrestler from the south-central Iranian city of Shiraz. He and his brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari reportedly participated in the 2018 anti-regime protests stemming from a weak economy, strict enforcement of Islamic rules and shortage of water. Authorities in plainclothes went to Afkari's house and took him along with one of his brothers. The brothers were sentenced to several decades in prison for the murder.
Critics said Afkari's death penalty was yet another punishment from the Islamic Republic to silence dissent. In 2019, the country executed 251 people over various charges. In August, Afkari wrote a letter from the prison detailing physical and psychological torture he faced from the authorities.
"For around 50 days I had to endure the most horrendous physical and psychological tortures. They would beat me with sticks and batons, hitting my arms, legs, abdomen and back. They would place a plastic bag on my head and torture me until I suffocated to the very brink of death. They also poured alcohol into my nose," the wrestler wrote in the letter.
Afkari's death penalty garnered attention from athletes worldwide. Canadian Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe and Olympic weightlifting champion Christine Girard joined the #SaveNavidAfkari campaign on Twitter. Retired Australian soccer player Craig Foster backed Afkari and spoke out against his death sentence.
"Membership of the international sporting community must come with basic obligations. Torturing and putting to death an athlete for exercising their human rights is surely the most egregious transgression of the principles of sport, which are said to correspond with those of humanity," Foster said.