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Iranian player Amir Nasr-Azadani sentenced to prison but death penalty overturned

It was initially reported that Iranian soccer player Amir Nasr-Azadani would be hanged due to his involvement in protests defending women’s rights in Iran.

Campaña contra la ejecución de Amir Nasr-Azadani va por el millón de firmas en Change.org

Iranian soccer player Amir Nasr-Azadani has been sentenced to 26 years in prison by an Islamic Revolutionary Court due to his alleged involvement in the murders of three Basij officers – paramilitary volunteers affiliated with Islamic Revolutionary Guard – and two other crimes committed during the protests that have rocked the Persian nation since the middle of September.

Three other people implicated in the murder of the three Basij officers in the city of Isfahan in mid-November have been sentenced to death and another to two years in prison, according to judicial news agency Mizan.

Mizan had originally reported that Nasr-Azadani would be hanged but this decision has now been overturned. Nasr-Azadani’s case went viral last year and drew criticism around the world when soccer players’ associations and international media announced in December that he had been given the death penalty.

How long will Amir Nasr-Azadani actually spend in prison?

The player has now been sentenced to 16 years in prison for his complicity in the murder of the three Basij officers, five for assembly and collusion to commit crimes, and five more for being a member of illegal groups with the intention of disturbing public safety. He will serve the sentences concurrently which means he will, in principle, spend 16 years in prison.

Nasr-Azadani has played for a number of clubs in Iran and between the 2016 and 2018 featured for Tractor Sazi, the team that Spanish manager Paco Jémez has just agreed to coach.

In the same trial, Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi Sheikh Shabani, and Saeed Yaqoubi have been sentenced to death for “moharebe”, which roughly translates to “waging war against God”, following the murders of the Basij officers in Isfahan and join 11 other people – as things stand – who will face the death penalty. In addition, the three have also been sentenced to 10 years in prison. A fifth defendant, Soheil Jahangiri, has been sentenced to two years in prison for his involvement in the same acts, while a sixth, Jaber Mirhashemi, has been acquitted. Mizan said that four of the accused were represented by their own lawyers, while the other two were represented by court-appointed lawyers.

Iran has been hit by waves of protests since the death on 16 September of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police for not wearing her hijab in accordance with government standards properly and later died in police custody. The Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic of Iran stated that she had a heart attack at a police station, collapsed, and fell into a coma before being transferred to a hospital. However, eyewitnesses, including women who were detained with Amini, claimed that she was severely beaten and that she died as a result of police brutality, which the Iranian authorities denied. The protests have evolved to such a degree that protesters are now calling for the end of the Islamic Republic founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

How many deaths have there been in relation to the protests in Iran?

The Iranian government has used force to repress the demonstrations, which have mainly been led by young people and women calling for greater freedom; the chant “women, life, freedom” has been the movement’s slogan. At least 2,000 people have been charged by the Iranian judiciary with various offences for their participation in the protests, with 14 having been sentenced to death and four executed.

Monday’s sentences come after the Iranian authorities carried out the executions of Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Mohammad Hosseini on Saturday for the alleged murder of a Basij officer. Their hangings have led to yet more criticism around the globe. The European Union has said that it was appalled by the executions and called on Tehran to “immediately overturn” the death penalty sentences which have been handed down in relation to the protests. Human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, meanwhile, have condemned the trials as “farcical”, “unfair” and “revenge killings”. Nearly 500 people have been killed in the protests and close to 20,000 have been arrested, according to the Oslo-based NGO Iran Human Rights.