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Trump urges Iran not to execute champion wrestler Navid Afkari

The 27-year-old was sentenced to death for alleged murder of man during 2018 anti-government rallies
Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers in 2018
Trump pulled US out of nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers in 2018 (AFP)
By in
Washington

US President Donald Trump urged Iran not to execute a popular wrestler who authorities say killed a man during 2018 anti-government rallies.

Citing reports over the death sentence for 27-year-old Navid Afkari, Trump said: "[To] the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man's life, and not execute him" in a tweet on Thursday.

Judiciary authorities in Iran say Afkari was sentenced to death for the slaying of Hassan Torkaman, a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz, following an anti-government protest over economic problems.

On Saturday, Iranian state television aired a video in which Afkari appeared to confess to the killing. The footage showed what appeared to be written confessions by the 27-year-old, but he has said in a recording circulated on social media that he was coerced to sign the documents.

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"I hit twice, once and then again," Afkari was shown saying with a stabbing gesture during a police reconstruction of the killing.

But Afkari's attorney, Hassan Younesi, said that there was no clear evidence proving his client's guilt. "There is no picture of the moment of the crime. The alleged video is from an hour before the murder," Younesi said on Twitter. He has requested a retrial for his client.

Iran's state media often air purported confessions by suspects in politically charged cases.

In his tweet, Trump linked to a Fox News article that said the wrestler had been sentenced to death for participating in the demonstrations.

A provincial court in Shiraz sentenced Afkari to death. His brothers, Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari, received 54 and 27 years in prison respectively. All three were construction workers.

The July verdicts, reported in August, prompted an outcry - both in Iran and internationally.

In a video that circulated on social media this week, the Afkaris' mother, Behieh Namjou, claimed the three men were tortured before their confessions. She pleaded to the authorities for mercy.

The news website of Iran's judiciary, Mizanonline, on Monday denied Afkari had been tortured and called the Greco-Roman wrestler a "murderer of an innocent citizen".

In 2018, protests broke out in several Iranian cities over the country's falling currency and economic woes, leading to violence between police and protesters.

The protests came after Trump - in May that year - pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers and imposed sanctions on Iran that have sent the country's economy into freefall.