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Source: DW

Dec 19, 2022

The Islamic Republic of Iran is reported to be planning to execute professional footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani. Former Wolfsburg and Hertha Berlin player Ashkan Dejagah has been barred from leaving the country.

As protests against Iranian authorities continue, the regime is still carrying out acts of repression against its own citizens. Among the estimated 20,000 prisoners arrested for participating in demonstrations against the government of the Islamic Republic over the past three months are several well-known athletes. 

After the public execution of 23-year-old wrestler Madzhidreza Rahnavard [by hanging from a construction crane in the city of Mashhad on December 12], professional football player Amir Nasr-Azadani, 26, is reported to be under threat of the same fate.

The former Iran under-21 international, who was most recently under contract with Iranian second-division club Iranjavan FC, stands accused of "sedition against the authorities" and "war against God" among other charges. Under the Islamic Republic's penal code, the death penalty is the maximum sentence.

The verdict was handed down only a few days after the footballer's arrest on November 18 and was not in keeping with the principle of the rule of law. Moreover, the player was not provided with legal counsel. According to human rights activists, the judiciary used torture to obtain forced confessions from Nasr-Azadani. 

Worldwide solidarity with Nasr-Azadani 

The international professional footballers' union, FIFPro, said it was "shocked and disgusted" at the verdict, as Nasr-Azadani had "stood up for women's rights and fundamental freedoms in his country." 

Andreas Larem, a member of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, said he believed the Iranian regime was looking to make an example of Nasr-Azadani.

"We can't let an entire generation that stands up for human rights and freedom rot in prison or watch as one after another is executed," said Larem, who called for "the immediate release of Amir Nasr Azadani and the other convicts."

Many footballers have expressed their solidarity with Nasr-Azadani, including Colombian international Radamel Falcao and Marc Barta of Spain, as well as Uruguay's Luis Suarez, Ronald Araujo and Diego

Internationally known musicians such as pop singer Shakira have also expressed their support. 

Former Bundesliga player Ashkan Dejagah detained 

One of the latest athletes to feel the wrath of the Iranian judiciary has been German-Iranian footballer Ashkan Dejagah, who was a member of the German team that won the European Championship in 2009. Dejagah, now a member of Iranian club Foolad FC Khuzestan was banned from leaving the country last month because he had taken part in a protest against the Iranian government in Berlin a few days earlier. 

His agent, Reza Fazeli, announced via Twitter that his client would not be allowed to attend his team's training camp in Dubai because of the exit ban, as he is said to have offered his condolences to the relatives of those recently killed by the regime. 

The Iranian news service "Mashregh News," which has close ties to the regime, has reported that the former Hertha Berlin, Wolfsburg, and Fulham player has been arrested and is being held in custody. 

'Spreading fear and terror'

So, what does the Islamic Republic regime hope to achieve by taking such measures against Iranian athletes? 

"The Islamic Republic wants to spread fear and terror among the population with the arrest and execution of athletes," Kasra Mehdipournejad, an Iranian taekwondo professional, who lives in Berlin told DW. 

"Criticism of the state leadership is classified as enmity against God and punishable by execution."  

In the face of such repression, Iranian-born human rights activist Mehdi Jafari Gorzini, who is based in the western

German city of Mainz, calls on the international sporting community to unite in expressing its "solidarity with threatened athletes in Iran." 

It could best do this, he told DW, with a sustained "boycott of all Iranian sports associations  as a sign of solidarity."

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