Iran's Zarif says wrestler Afkari executed for murder, not role in unrest

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari was executed earlier this month for murder, the country’s foreign minister said on Monday, rejecting assertions by rights activists that the death sentence arose from his involvement in street protests.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was speaking in a virtual address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

Iran’s hardline judiciary said last week that Afkari, 27, a national champion Greco-Roman wrestler, was executed for murder. But his family and rights groups said he was tortured into making a false confession and his attorney said there was no proof of his guilt.

“We have an independent judiciary and the government is not involved in the decision-making of the judiciary...This gentleman ... was executed not because of participation in the demonstrations but because of a murder,” Zarif said.

“Many people participate in demonstrations (in Iran) and none of them are executed (for involvement in them).”

Iranian state media reported Afkari’s execution on Sept. 12, saying Afkari had been convicted of stabbing a security guard to death during anti-government protests in 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump had called on the Islamic Republic not to execute Afkari.

The European Union condemned Afkari’s execution, calling it cruel and inhumane punishment, while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it “an outrageous assault on human dignity, even by the despicable standards of this regime”.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich