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Trump pleads for life of condemned Iranian wrestler

Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump pleaded Thursday for the life of an Iranian wrestler condemned to death after being convicted of murder.

“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,” Trump tweeted in a rare direct appeal to the Iranian government.

“To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!” he tweeted, tagging a Fox News story on the wrestler and the UFC mixed martial arts organization and its president Dana White.

Trump is a longtime fan of watching various forms of wrestling and is close to White. However, he has taken an aggressive approach to longtime US foe Iran since becoming president, enacting crippling sanctions.

An Iranian state television-linked news agency reported Thursday that Afkari had been sentenced to death.

The judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency said he was found guilty of the “voluntary homicide” of a water department worker in Shiraz, southern Iran, who was stabbed to death on August 2, 2018.

Shiraz and several other urban centres across the country were the scene that day of anti-government protests and demonstrations over economic and social hardship.

Reports published abroad say Afkari, aged 27, was condemned on the basis of confessions extracted under torture, prompting online campaigns of support for his release.