British minister opposes death penalty for Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari

UK now joins US, Germany in urging Iran to stop execution of reportedly innocent wrestler.

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna (photo credit: REUTERS/ LEONHARD FOEGER)
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in Vienna
The UK’s minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Sunday urged the Iranian regime not to execute the champion wrestler Navid Afkari, joining the American and German governments in a global campaign to save the decorated Greco-Roman wrestler’s life.  
“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, as a matter of principle. We share global concern at the death sentence given to Navid Afkari and urge the Iranian authorities to show restraint,” tweeted Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad.
US President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday: “To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!”
The German foreign ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday Iran’s regime should not execute Afkari.
In 2018, the authorities in the city of Shiraz arrested Navid and his two brothers for participating in nationwide protests against the regime’s economic and political corruption. Iranian state-controlled television aired a broadcast on Saturday that accused Afkari of stabbing a water company employee during the social unrest.
A court in Shiraz, the fifth-most populated city in the Islamic Republic of Iran, sentenced Afkari’s brothers Vahid and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, in connection with the protests and  the alleged killing.
The champion wrestler facing two death sentences appeared to confess the killing on state TV. Iran’s state media often air purported confessions by suspects in politically charged cases.
The International Federation for Human Rights and London-based Justice for Iran said in a report in June that Iranian state media have aired more than 355 forced confessions in the past decade. Iranian officials reject such accusations.
A snowball effect of support among international wrestling associations, decorated and world champion wrestlers, has unfolded. The Paris Wrestling Club urged in a tweet to Iran’s regime not to apply the death penalty to Afkari.
The two-time world champion US wrestler Kyle Dake posted a video requesting Iran’s government not to execute Afkari.
Helen Maroulis, an American freestyle wrestler who in 2016 was the first female wrestler to win a gold medal in women’s freestyle wrestling at the Olympic Games, circulated a video in support of Afkari, and appealed to Iran’s regime not to kill Afkari.
Sally Roberts, a two-time world freestyle wrestling championship bronze medalist and Afghanistan combat veteran, posted a video against Navid’s execution that has been viewed nearly 5,000 times. Rogers wrote on Twitter: “Champion wrestler Navid Afkari is to be executed 4 attending a peaceful anti-government protest. Navid’s situation is dire. Athletes please support Navid & appeal to the Iranian govt to spare his life.”
The three time Division I collegiate wrestling champion Zain Retherford tweeted: “Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been sentenced to death on false charges & has transferred to the ‘death wing.’ Save Navid Afkari. Spare the life of the champion Greco-Roman Wrestler from execution.”
The US organization Beat the Streets LA, which seeks to “empower and transform the lives of youth through the sport of wrestling,” tweeted “Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari has been sentenced to death. Let’s raise our voices to help save his life. Time is of the essence.”
Sara McMann, an Olympic silver medalist for the US, urged Iran’s regime to spare the life of Afkari.
Reuters contributed to this report.