An Iranian footballer who participated in anti-regime protests faces execution, despite pleas for pardon from a former national team captain and other sports stars.
Amir Nasr-Azadani, who once played for the national under-16 team, was arrested in September for allegedly taking part in an ‘armed riot’ in Isfahan in which three members of the security forces were killed .
The 26-year-old Iranjavan Bushehr FC defender has been charged with “rebellion, membership in illegal gangs, collusion to undermine security and therefore aiding the moharabeh”.
The charge of moharabeh, which means “to make war on God”, is punishable by death in Iran.
As it struggles to quell nationwide protests that have shaken the regime’s legitimacy, Tehran proudly announced the hanging of two protesters this month, raising fears of the imminent execution of those accused of moharabeh.
Amnesty International says 11 people have already been sentenced to death for the protests and that at least nine others, including Mr. Nasr-Azadani, face the death penalty.
Thousands of people have reportedly been arrested since protests began following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran vice police in September.
Iranian justice said on Tuesday that 400 people in the capital alone had been sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years for their involvement in the protests. “During hearings on riot cases in Tehran province, 160 people were sentenced to terms ranging from five to ten years in prison, 80 people to two to five years and 160 people to terms of up to two years,” a Tehran justice spokesman said.
On Monday, FifPro, the international players’ union, said it was “shocked and sickened” by reports that Mr Nasr-Azadani could be executed “after campaigning for women’s rights and fundamental freedoms in his country “.
Fifpro declared its solidarity with Mr. Nasr-Azadani and called for the “immediate lifting” of his sentence.
Current and former professional football players have appealed for leniency. Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and former team captain Masoud Shojaei have shared images on social media in support of the youngster. Ali Karimi, a former Iran international, who has been a strong supporter of the protest movement and has also backed the footballer, said on Twitter: “Don’t execute Amir.”
Mr Nasr-Azadani played for Persian Gulf Pro League side Tractor between 2016 and 2018, following a short season with Rah Ahan in 2015-16. He hasn’t played professionally since his last appearance in November 2017.
On Monday, Majidreza Rahnavard became the second protester to be hanged in public. Rights groups said the two deaths were the result of “mock trials” without due process.
The US State Department has condemned Iran for the execution of Mr. Rahnavard.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday, “We denounce this draconian treatment in the strongest terms. These harsh sentences and now the first public execution… are meant to intimidate the Iranian people. They are meant to suppress dissent.
Two former Iranian national team footballers arrested on charges related to nationwide protests were released on bail last month. Right-back Voria Ghafouri, who was arrested for “tarnishing the reputation of the national team and spreading propaganda against the state”, and former goalkeeper Parviz Boroumand were both arrested for taking part in protest rallies in Tehran.
Their release came just hours before the national team’s final World Cup game against the United States in Qatar, which was seen as a move to ease tensions and quell the growing anger that had been set in motion. highlighted by the protests during the World Football Tournament.