Donald Trump urges Iran not to execute wrestler Navid Afkari

US president strikes polite tone in message to Tehran

U.S. President Donald Trump waves after returning to Washington from travel to Wilmington, North Carolina at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, U.S., September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis
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US President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran not to execute wrestling star Navid Afkari.

Mr Trump made the request to the Iranian government on Twitter.

“Hearing that Iran is looking to execute a great and popular wrestling star, 27-year-old Navid Afkari, whose sole act was an anti-government demonstration on the streets," he wrote.

"To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life and not execute him."

Iran last week sentenced the wrestling champion to two death sentences and 74 lashes for his role in the 2018 protests, Iran Human Rights said.

“The sentences were upheld by the Supreme Court and as their request for a retrial has been denied, Navid Afkari is in danger of execution,” the rights group said on Wednesday.

Mr Trump’s request to Iran follows an indirect diplomatic movement between Washington and Tehran.

On Wednesday, the State Department said US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis to discuss Iran and US hostages in the country.

“Secretary Pompeo thanked Foreign Minister Cassis for Switzerland’s continued and constructive role as our protecting power in Iran and for its assistance in caring for and repatriating US citizens wrongly imprisoned by the Iranian regime,” the department said.

Mr Cassis is due to arrive in Tehran on Saturday and hold talks with its leaders.

Mr Trump’s tone was softer than usual in addressing the Iranian government, with whom he has clashed repeatedly.

He has pursued a strategy of maximum pressure against Tehran, taking the US out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Mr Trump also ordered the killing of prominent Iranian general Qassem Suleimani in January, sparking weeks of sky-high tension in the region.