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Iran executes national karate champion as it ignores father's plea to spare his life

Mohammad Mehdi Karami
Mohammad Mehdi Karami

Iran executed a former national karate champion and another man on Saturday for allegedly killing a security official during nationwide protests, despite pleas by relatives and criticism that their trial relied on forced confession.

The two men executed on Saturday had been convicted over the death of a member of the Basij paramilitary force militia, who prosecutors said was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi. Three others have been sentenced to death in the same case, while 11 received prison sentences.

“Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, principal perpetrators of the crime that led to the unjust martyrdom of Ruhollah Ajamian were hanged this morning,” the judiciary said in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

Four people have now been executed for their role in protests that followed the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in police custody in September and which have escalated into calls for an end to Iran's clerical regime.

Their killing came despite Karami's parents pleading with the judiciary not to kill their son and an international campaign which decried his trial as a sham.

Mohammad Mahdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini - AFP
Mohammad Mahdi Karami and Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini - AFP

In December Karimi’s parents posted a video on social media in which his father said: “I respectfully ask the judiciary, please, I beg of you to please lift the execution order from my son’s file.”

His father issued another call earlier this week.  In an audio message posted by activist group 1500tasvir, he said: “They’re killing my innocent child. What should I do? Who should I talk to?”

He had last spoken to Karami last week, he said, when his son warned him of his impending execution. “'Dad, they have given us the sentences,'” his father said he was told. “'They have given me the death sentence, but didn't say anything to Mum so don't tell her either.'”

His father said Karami had been made a scapegoat. “What has he done?” he asked. “Two thousand people rushed on this Basiji [militiaman who was killed], may he rest in peace, they have held my child responsible for all of it.”

Karami had maintained his innocence until the end, his father said. “I asked him, 'Mehdi, on my life, did you do these [offences]?' He said: 'I swear to God Dad, I swear on your worker's hands, no.”

With pride he described how his son had won more than a dozen medals in national karate competitions and been named the fourth person in the 2018 national karate team. “A child who I raised by peddling on the street.”

Amnesty International said the “fast-tracked unfair group trial” of the two men bore no “resemblance to a meaningful judicial proceeding”.

The men appealed their conviction in December alleging they made false confessions as a result of torture. Ali Sharifzadeh Ardakani, Hosseini's lawyer, said his client had been severely tortured and his coerced confession should have been inadmissible.

He said Hosseini was beaten with his hands and feet tied up, kicked in the head until he passed out, and subjected to electric shocks on different parts of his body. “He was tasered and beaten on the soles of his feet with a metal rod,” he said.

Iran denied the confessions were extracted under duress.

Mohamad Hossein Aghasi, one of Karami’s lawyers, posted on Twitter on Saturday that his client was not afforded his right to speak with his family for the last time before being put to death.