An Iranian footballer who took part in protests against his nation’s oppressive regime has been jailed for 16 years after being spared the death penalty.
Amir Nasr-Azadani, who once played for the national under-16s team, had previously been feared to be facing execution like many others who have shown dissent in recent months.
However, after pleas for mercy from a former national team captain and other sports stars, humanitarian campaigners said authorities had settled on an extensive prison term.
Nasr-Azadani, 26, was handed sentences totalling 26 years, but will serve 16 years. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights, thanked those “who were his voice” on Twitter.
Three other protesters, Saleh Mirhashemi, Majid Kazemi and Saeed Yaghoubi, were told during the same hearing that they will be executed, however.
Nasr-Azadani was arrested in September for allegedly taking part in an “armed riot” in Isfahan in which three members of the security forces were killed.
The 26-year-old defender with Iranjavan Bushehr FC was charged with “rebellion, membership in illegal gangs, collusion to undermine security and therefore assisting in Moharebeh [waging war against God]”.
He was then reportedly found guilty of “partaking in enmity against God” for which he was handed the lengthy jail term instead of the death penalty.
The 16 year sentence was reported by the Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The rulings are preliminary and can be appealed in the Supreme Court. A former team-mate of Nasr-Azadani has previously said the court ruling was absurd.
Nationwide protests broke out over the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. At least 517 protesters have reportedly been killed and more than 19,200 arrested in recent months.
Nasr-Azadani played for Persian Gulf Pro League side Tractor between 2016 and 2018, after a short season-long spell with Rah Ahan in 2015-16. He has not played professionally since his last appearance in November 2017.