TEHRAN — Fears intensified on Tuesday over the fate of 26-year-old Iranian soccer player Amir Reza Nasr Azadani, who was arrested last month and is standing trial in Iran over his participation in anti-government protests.
Prosecutors in the central city of Isfahan indicted the athlete on Sunday with a charge punishable by execution. According to Mizan News, the official outlet of the Iranian judiciary, Nasr Azadani is accused of armed rebellion against the Islamic Republic. No date has been assigned for his next court appearance.
Nasr Azadani plays for FC Iranjavan, a club based in Bushehr in southwest Iran that currently competes in the Azadegan League.
The indictment alleges that he is a member of an unnamed "armed group" targeting the ruling establishment. It links the soccer player to the deaths of two members of pro-government paramilitary Basij forces and a police officer during an anti-government protest Nov. 16. The Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced last month that it had arrested a "terrorist team" over the Isfahan violence.
Isfahan's chief judge, Asadollah Jafary, pledged that the court will act "without any attention to media campaigns," an apparent reference to pushes at home and abroad for Azadani's acquittal.
FIFPRO is shocked and sickened by reports that professional footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani faces execution in Iran after campaigning for women’s rights and basic freedom in his country.— FIFPRO (@FIFPRO) December 12, 2022
We stand in solidarity with Amir and call for the immediate removal of his punishment. pic.twitter.com/vPuylCS2ph
Ali Karimi, an Iranian former soccer star, now exiled dissident, has been leading the support campaign, describing Nasr Azadani as "one of the victims of the child-killing regime." Similarly, many members of the Iranian soccer community, including former Hamburg SV right-winger Mehdi Mahdavikia, have released their own statements of solidarity.
FIFPRO, the global union for professional football players, said Monday that it was "shocked and sickened" by Nasr Azadani's possible execution for "campaigning for women’s rights and basic freedom." The union urged "the immediate removal of his punishment."
Iran's Ministry of Sports has toed the line of conservative President Ebrahim Raisi. It has shown no gesture of public support, only noting that Azadani has been indicted and was awaiting a verdict.
Since Thursday, Iran has executed two protesters, Mohsen Shekari and Majid-Reza Rahnavard, both 23, triggering shock and condemnation. Iranian judges have officially ordered capital punishment for at least 11 other protesters.
The crackdown since mid-September, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, has left 490 protesters dead, nearly 70 of them minors.