Canadian athletes join campaign to save wrestler from execution

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Athletes in Canada are joining an international social media campaign to save the life of an Iranian wrestling champion who is sentenced to be executed on Wednesday.Navid Afkari is well known in Iran, but many believe his popularity is used by the Iranian regime to scare others and not defend human rights.

The 27-year-old was arrested for participating in a peaceful protest against the government in 2018. Afkari, his family and his lawyer claim he was tortured while in prison to confess to a murder he did not committed.

On Twitter, Canadian Olympic wrestling champion Erica Wiebe posted an article about Afkari on an Iranian human rights website.

Wiebe does not know him, but says that in the international wrestling community there are only a few degrees of separation.

“Wrestling is a truly global sport and I have been fortunate to have many friends who were born in Iran or who competed for Iran,” Wiebe told CBC. “When I hear the news of what happened to Navid Afkari, it breaks my heart. ”

Canadian Olympic weightlifting champion Christine Girard has also joined the #SaveNavidAfkari campaign, retweeting a request that Iran grant her an immediate reprieve.

“Navid is executed because as a wrestling champion he has a platform,” Girard told CBC. “Athletes should not be intimidated into silence and they have the right to use their platform to peacefully advocate on issues that are important to them.

Girard and Wiebe are just two of the hundreds of prominent athletes and politicians who profile Afkari’s predicament.

The World Players Association and its 85,000 members say that world sports bodies such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA should use their influence to pressure Iran on behalf of Afkari.

Even US President Donald Trump and Dana White of the UFC have taken to Twitter to ask for a stay of execution.

Wiebe says that in the age of social media and Black Lives Matter, athletes realize they have a platform and start speaking out for what they believe in.

“We certainly see a lot of athletes fighting for the right to speak out,” she said. “I’m not sure what change we can actually make, but we can try. ”

“If my tweet or signing a petition has the opportunity to help, even in a modest way, I feel it’s my responsibility to lend my voice,” Girard said.

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