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Diplomatic row brews between Iran and Germany over tweet on executed wrestler

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Iran on Saturday executed Navid Afkari, who was convicted of murder, despite an international outcry

A group of protesters chant slogans at the main gate of the Old Grand Bazaar in Tehran in June 2018. Iran broadcast the televised confession of a wrestler facing the death penalty after a tweet from President Donald Trump criticising the case. File picture: Iranian Labor News Agency via AP

TEHRAN — Iran on Monday summoned Germany’s ambassador following his embassy’s criticism of the execution last weekend of a wrestler after President Donald Trump asked for the 27-year-old man’s life to be spared.

The official IRNA news agency said a foreign ministry official told Ambassador Hans-Udo Muzel at the meeting that the tweet about the wrestler, Navid Afkari, amounted to an “intervention” in Iran’s domestic affairs and strongly protested the move.

“Intervention in Iran’s independent judicial affairs is not acceptable,” the statement quoted the unnamed official as saying, adding that the ambassador was advised the embassy should not go “beyond its diplomatic” duties.

The embassy had earlier on Monday said on its Twitter account that it was “deeply surprised” about the execution and suggested the wrestler was executed as part of Iran’s efforts to “silence opposing voices”.

Later, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in a tweet that the German ambassador in Tehran had phoned the Iranian Foreign Ministry to again “express the German government’s position in the case of the Iranian athlete Navid Afkari, and its horror over the carrying out of the death sentence”.

Iran on Saturday executed Afkari, who was convicted of murder, despite an international outcry to stop the execution and following Trump’s plea.

Afkari’s case had drawn attention after a social media campaign portrayed him and his brothers, who remain in prison, as victims who were targeted because they participated in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018.

Authorities accused Afkari of fatally stabbing a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz amid the unrest.

Earlier in September, Iran broadcast the wrestler’s televised confession. The segment resembled hundreds of other suspected coerced confessions aired over the last decade in the Islamic Republic.

The case revived a demand inside the country for Iran to stop carrying out the death penalty. Even imprisoned Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, herself nearly a month into a hunger strike over conditions at Tehran’s Evin prison amid the coronavirus pandemic, passed word that she supported Afkari.

The International Olympic Committee in a statement shortly after Saturday’s execution said it was shocked and saddened by the news of the wrestler’s execution, and that the committee’s president, Thomas Bach, “had made direct personal appeals to the Supreme Leader and to the President of Iran this week and asked for mercy for Navid Afkari”.

Germany, alongside other world major powers, signed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran aimed at capping Iran’s nuclear activities in return of sanction relief. Trump pulled out the US from the deal and reimposed sanction on Iran in 2018 but European powers including Germany remain in the deal.

In Geneva, UN human rights experts condemned the execution and raised the alarm that it was the latest “in a series of death penalty sentences handed down in the context of protests” in Iran.

“Such flagrant disregard for the right to life through summary executions is not only a matter of domestic concern,” said the UN experts’ statement on Monday. “We call on the international community to react strongly to these actions by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”