Iran has followed-through with the execution of 27-year-old wrestling champion Navid Afkari, despite attempts by UFC president Dana White and United States President Donald Trump to spare his life.
Afkari received two death sentences from the Iranian government for allegedly murdering a security guard at a 2018 protest. But Afkari, his lawyers, and his family have always maintained his innocence. They claim that he was protesting peacefully that day in 2018, and that he only confessed to the murder because he was under extreme torture by Iranian officials.
Meanwhile, Afkari’s brothers, Vahid and Habib, also received harsh sentences for their involvement, but were spared the death penalty. They received 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively, as well as 74 lashes.
White and Trump Intervene
Dana White is the president of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the American mixed-martial arts entertainment company that made a star out of Afkari. Upon hearing the 27-year-old wrestler’s sentence, White reached out to President Trump, a close personal friend, asking him to intervene.
While it is unknown whether Trump reached out to the government of Iran, he did plead for Afkari’s life in a pair of tweets this weekend:
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’
…To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!”
White, meanwhile, posted a video to Instagram, pleading Afkari’s case and making a final public appeal to stop the execution. In the video, he explains:
“(Afkari) went to a peaceful protest in Iran and he’s going to be executed for that. It was brought to my attention. This guy is, first of all he’s a human being; number two: he’s one of us. He could be any of my fighters. The only thing I thought to do was to call the President and see if he could help this man. He said, ‘Let us look into it. Let me talk to the administration and see if there is something we can do to save his life.’ So the President tweeted.
I would just like to say that I, too, respectfully and humbly ask the government officials in Iran to please not execute this man and spare his life.
Despite attempts by the international community to halt the slaying, Afkari was executed on Saturday. Gholam Hossein Esmaeil, a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary, said that Afkari would be sentenced to the Islamic verdict of “ghesas,” which means “retribution-in-kind.” For the alleged crime of murder, Afkari must pay with his own life.