Iranian officials executed 27-year-old Greco-Roman wrestling champion Navid Afkari on Saturday despite pleas from UFC president Dana White and U.S. President Donald Trump to spare his life.
The Iranian government claims that Afkari murdered a security guard during protests in 2018. Afkari, his attorneys, and family say that he was peacefully protesting and that he confessed to the murder only under extreme torture by authorities.
Afkari’s brothers, Vahid and Habib, were sentenced to 54 and 27 years in prison, as well as 74 lashes, in the same case, according to human rights activists in Iran in a BBC report of the case.
White, in hearing of the sentence, reached out to President Trump, who is a personal friend of his, for help.
The President responded, at least in part, by tweeting, “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 posted a video to Instagram, saying, “(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 (a plea to the Iranian government).
“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.”
Those pleas, as well as those of Afkari’s family and thousands of supporters worldwide, fell on deaf ears, as the Iranian government carried out Afkari’s execution on Saturday, according to the BBC.