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PARIS: Iran has sentenced to death a local boxing champion over his role in 2019 protests, activists said, expressing fear that another athlete risks execution after a wrestler was put to death.

The death sentence issued against Mohammad Javad Vafaei-Sani comes just over a year after the execution of wrestling champion Navid Afkari in September 2020, which prompted an international outcry and calls for Iran to be barred from sporting events.

The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) NGO said that Vafaei-Sani, 26, was sentenced to death after being convicted of arson and destruction of government buildings.

He had been detained in February 2020 and one of the charges against him was taking part in protests on November 2019 sparked by a sudden fuel price rise, it said.

His lawyer Babak Paknia confirmed the verdict on Twitter and announced plans to appealed to to the supreme court.

IHR described Vafaei-Sani as a "champion" boxer in the eastern city of Mashhad where he was currently being held.

Social media users urged the authorities to save his life, with the hashtag #SaveMohammadJavad trending on Twitter.

The exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political wing of the People's Mujahedin (MEK) opposition group, both outlawed in Iran, said in a statement that the charges against him included supporting the MEK.

Iran justice workers hold rare protests for wage hike

It described him as a junior boxing champion.

Navid Afkari, a 27-year-old wrestler who had won national competitions, was hanged in September 2020 in the southern city of Shiraz after being convicted of committing murder during protests that rocked the city two years before.

He had complained of being tortured into confessing, with methods that included beating and having alcohol squirted up his nose.

His brothers Habib and Vahid meanwhile remain in jail in solitary confinement, according to activists.

The United for Navid group of his supporters has called on USA Wrestling to cancel a planned invitation next month for Iranian wrestlers to take part in a friendly match.

Iran executes more people annually than any nation other than China and activists have expressed concern that the numbers hanged appeared to have increased again in 2021 after a recent downward trend.

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