On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump called on Iran not to execute Iranian champion wrestler Navid Afkari, who has been sentenced to death for participating in anti-Iran demonstrations in 2018.
"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 said in a tweet that included a link to a Fox News report.
In another tweet, President Trump asserted, "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."
Afkari is a freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestler from Shiraz, the capital of Fars province south of Iran. He has won several medals in domestic and international competitions.
In Fars province, a criminal court recently handed Afkari the death penalty for murdering a local security guard on August 2, 2018.
The sentencing followed an incident in Shiraz, when authorities arrested Navid and his brother, Vahid, for the alleged killing on September 17, 2018, with a third brother, Habib, also detained later that year. All three have remained behind bars and separated from each other in Shiraz's notorious Adel Abad prison.
In addition to Navid's death sentence, the Fars criminal court also handed Vahid a 27-year prison term for being an accessory to murder.
Navid Afkari's cause was also championed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) community, with UFC coach, John Kavanagh replying to Trump's tweet, writing, "Save Navid Afkari."
Ben Askren, a former UFC star and Olympic wrestler, added, "This is what a real authoritarian regime looks like."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, noted in a tweet Thursday that the Trump administration joined the world in "outrage" for Iran's torture of the Afkari brothers.
"We join the world in outrage at the Iranian regime's death sentence for Navid Afkari, who was tortured into giving a false confession after participating in peaceful protests in 2018," Ortagus wrote. "The regime also tortured his two brothers and sentenced them to decades in prison. Let them go!"
International demands for Iran to preserve Afkari's life have gained momentum in the past two days.
Dozens of Iranian and international athletes have so far joined voices urging the clergy-dominated Iran to spare the 27-year-old wrestler's life.
Furthermore, a campaign is already underway on social media protesting the death sentence against Afkari.
In a Monday interview with VOA Persian, a source close to Afkari's family said the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the wrestler's death sentence in an August 15 ruling, bringing him a step closer to potential execution. The Iranian judiciary's official news agency, Mizan, confirmed the Supreme Court's decision in a Monday tweet.
Behind bars, the Afkari brothers were under heavy pressure, to the extent that one attempted to take his life. Their mother disclosed in a video message that her sons were forced to testify against each other.
A former Iranian national footballer, Hassan Nayeb Aqa (Agha), told Radio Farda on Thursday that 62 Iranian athletes and sports champions had so far signed a.letter calling international bodies to stop Afkari's execution.
"The signatories to the letter have called international authorities, including the UN Secretary-General, to force the Islamic Republic to either overturn the death sentence against Navid Afkari or face devastating sanctions for violating human rights," Nayeb Aqa said.
In a letter published by the Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), Afkari insisted that security forces tortured him until he confessed to more than twenty crimes, including "insulting the Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attending illegal gatherings, assembly and conspiracy to commit crimes against national security."
Navid described how authorities covered his head with a plastic bag and poured alcohol into my nostrils as part of the torture.
There is no word on when Navid will be executed, but Human Rights institutions worldwide are urging foreign governments to intervene quickly before time runs out.