Navid Afkari has the world's attention. Sports groups are rallying behind the Iranian wrestler who insists his murder confession was forced under torture, the New York Times reports. Now his execution appears imminent: "We really are at one minute to midnight," says Brendan Schwab, head of the World Players Association. Iran accuses Afkari, 27, of stabbing a security guard during anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018. His confession aired on TV, but Afkari says in an audiotape smuggled out of prison that he was tortured into falsely confessing. CBS News reports that he also made a complaint saying he was put under "the most severe physical and psychological torture."
"There is not one shred of evidence in this damned case that shows I'm guilty," Afkari is quoted as saying in an IranHumanRights.org tweet. "I realized they are looking for a neck for their rope." Afkari's supporters—including former top Iranian officials and people across the political spectrum—say officials are making an example of Afkari to curb dissent, in part because he's a wrestler, and wrestling is so popular in Iran. CNN reports that President Trump has told Iran that "I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man's life, and not execute him. Thank you!" An online petition for Afkari has over 23,500 signatures thus far. Amnesty International says Iran executed 251 people in 2019, second only to China. (Read more Iran stories.)