President Donald Trump has urged Iran not to execute a popular wrestler who authorities say killed a man during 2018 anti-government rallies.

What You Need To Know

  • Iranian authorities sentenced popular wrestler Navid Afkari to death after they say he killed a man at an anti-government rally in 2018

  • A court also sentenced Afkari's brothers to lengthy prison sentences

  • Earlier this week, their mother claimed the three men confessed to the killing under torture and pleaded for mercy for her children

  • President Trump and UFC president Dana White are pleading for the safe release of Afkari

Citing reports on the death sentence for 27-year-old Navid Afkari, Trump said in a Thursday tweet: “... To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him. Thank you!”

The move comes after UFC president Dana White, a longtime friend and ally of Trump's who spoke at both the 2016 and 2020 Republican National Conventions, posted a video to Instagram pleading for Afkari's release.

Judiciary authorities in Iran say Afkari was sentenced to death for the death of Hassan Torkaman, a water supply company employee in the southern city of Shiraz, following an anti-government protest over economic problems.

A provincial court in Shiraz sentenced Afkari to death and his brothers Vahid Afkari and Habib Afkari to 54 and 27 years in prison, respectively. All three were construction workers.

The July verdicts that were reported in August prompted an outcry both in Iran and internationally.

Earlier this week, the Afkaris’ mother, Behieh Namjou, in a video that circulated on social media, claimed the three men confessed to the killing under torture. She pleaded to authorities for mercy for her children.

The news website of Iran’s judiciary, Mizanonline, on Monday denied Afkari had been tortured and called the Greco-Roman wrestler a “murderer of an innocent citizen.”

Hassan Younesi, Afkari’s lawyer, told the semiofficial ILNA news agency that there is no evidence showing Afkari had a role the victim’s death and has requested a retrial.

In 2018, protests broke out in several Iranian cities over the country’s falling currency and economic woes that led to a violent encounter between police and protesters. It came after Trump in May that year pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers and imposed sanctions on Iran that has sent the country’s economy into free fall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.