The Iranian sports stars being arrested, jailed and executed as anti-government protests continue

Iranian sports stars have been arrested, sentenced to death and executed as authorities continue to brutally clamp down on protests.

Human rights organisations say the regime is trying to "make an example" of athletes, some of whom have taken part in demonstrations or shown solidarity through acts of defiance abroad.

The recent execution of karate champion Mohammad Mehdi Karami and 16 years in prison for footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani are just two of the latest punishments handed out to sporting figures.

Protests have rocked Iran for several months following the death of Mahsa Amini while in custody of the morality police.

Ms Amini, who was 22, is being held up as a symbol and rallying cry for change, while the regime's heavy-handed response has seen the deaths of at least 519 protesters, according to the activist HRANA news agency.

Nina Navid, Amnesty International UK's Iran campaigner, said the regime's crackdown via sport "isn't surprising".

She told Sky News: "It was always likely that the Iranian authorities would try to make an example of prominent sporting figures supporting the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests, and that seems to be exactly what's happening.

"At the World Cup, Iranian fans who expressed support for protesters back in Iran were intimidated by pro-government fans, very likely with official backing, while family members of the national team were reportedly warned they faced arrest and torture if the players dared to repeat their boycott of the national anthem after the first game against England."

According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an NGO based in the US, some 36 athletes have been arrested amid the demonstrations over the past several months.

"While some have directly participated in street protests, others have shown solidarity through acts of defiance abroad," Skylar Thompson, head of global advocacy for HRA, told Sky News.

"Top athletes have the power through a global voice to bring the world together around a common cause and, if used deliberately and intentionally, that power can move mountains."

Mohammad Mehdi Karami

A former national karate champion, he was reportedly accused of killing a member of the Basij paramilitary during a protest in Karaj, near Tehran.

The Basij have been working to suppress the protests, attacking and detaining demonstrators.

Human rights group Amnesty International said his trial "bore no resemblance to a meaningful judicial proceeding".

He was executed on Saturday.

Amir Nasr-Azadani

Iranian premier league footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani was sentenced to 16 years in prison for taking part in the nationwide protests, local media reported.

The 26-year-old was found guilty of "partaking in enmity against God" in relation to the killing of three security officers in the city of Isfahan on 16 November, according to Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Local news reports suggested his confession was coerced, with members of his family ordered to stay silent.

Sahand Nour-Mohammadzadeh

A 26-year-old bodybuilder, Sahand Nour-Mohammadzadeh has been sentenced to death on the charge of "waging war" for alleged acts of arson and destruction of public property after being arrested in October.

According to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Mr Nour-Mohammadzadeh said in an audio file released after his detention that he was told he was going to be executed the moment he was arrested, and that the only evidence presented in his trial was a video showing him moving the guardrail in a street during a protest.

Read more:
Iranian actress freed after showing support for executed protester
Seven British-linked people arrested over protests in Iran

Marjan Jangjou

Rock climber Marjan Jangjou has been missing since she was arrested in her home in November for her alleged participation in street protests, it has been reported.

"Some of Marjan's friends have been looking for her in places she frequented as well as in cemeteries in Shiraz to check unmarked graves hoping to find traces of her," a source told CHRI.

Sara Khadem

Iranian chess player Sara Khadem took part in a tournament in the Kazakh city of Almaty last week and was pictured without a head covering, which is mandatory in Iran.

She was warned not to return home, according to a source close to her, and has since arrived in Spain.

Newspapers including Spain's El Pais reported last week that Ms Khadem was planning to relocate to the country.

Elnaz Rekabi

Climber Elnaz Rekabi received attention in the early days of the Mahsa Amini protests after competing without a hijab at an event in South Korea.

After receiving a hero's welcome on her return to Iran, she told a state TV reporter that it was "completely unintentional".

"I was unexpectedly called and I had to compete. I was busy putting on my shoes and technical gear and that caused me to forget putting on the hijab I had to be wearing. Then I went to compete."

Asked about rumours that no one knew her whereabouts for between 24 and 48 hours, Ms Rekabi replied: "No. This didn't happen. We came back to Iran according to the plan. Until this moment everything has been going on according to the plan."

Ali Daei

Iran's all-time leading international goalscorer Ali Daei has been among those criticising the regime's crackdown on demonstrators.

The former footballer said his wife and daughter were questioned by officials after a flight they were on was diverted.

On social media, Mr Daei had urged the government to "solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests".