Iran executed a champion wrestler on Saturday for allegedly murdering a man during anti-government protests, despite international pleas for clemency, state TV reported.
"The retaliation sentence against Navid Afkari, the killer of Hassan Turkman, was carried out this morning in Adelabad prison in Shiraz," state TV quoted the chief justice of Fars province, Kazem Mousavi, as saying on Saturday.
Afkari's case was highlighted through a social media campaign that said he and his brothers were targeted for participating in protests against the government in 2018. Authorities accused Afkari of stabbing a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz amid the unrest.
Iran broadcast the wrestler's televised confession last week. The segment resembled hundreds of other suspected coerced confessions aired over the past decade in Iran.
Afkari said he had been tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists, and his lawyer said there was no proof of his guilt.
Iran's judiciary denied the torture claims.
Afkari's two brothers were also convicted – Vahid Afkari was sentenced to 54 years and six months in prison and 74 lashes, while Habib Afkari was given a prison term of 27 years and three months and 74 lashes.
The case revived a demand inside the country for Iran to stop carrying out the death penalty. Even imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, herself nearly a month into a hunger strike over conditions at Tehran’s Evin prison during the coronavirus pandemic, passed word that she supported Afkari.
A global union representing 85,000 athletes called on Tuesday for Iran's expulsion from world sport if it executed Afkari.
US president Donald Trump sought to intercede for Afkari in a plea posted on Twitter.
“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him,” Mr Trump wrote last week. “Thank you!”
Iran responded to the tweet with a nearly 11-minute state TV report on Afkari. It included the weeping parents of the slain water company employee. The package included footage of Afkari on the back of a motorcycle saying he had stabbed the man in the back, without explaining why he carried out the assault.
The segment showed blurred police documents and described the killing as a personal dispute. It said Afkari's mobile phone had been in the area and it showed surveillance footage of him walking down a street, talking on his phone.
Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency dismissed Mr Trump's tweet in a feature story, saying that American sanctions had hurt Iranian hospitals during 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.