Wrestler Mohammad Namjoo-Motlagh has represented Iran on the local and international stage, where he won medals for his homeland.
But the 26-year-old is now seeking asylum in Germany after being threatened by the Iranian authorities over his support for the ongoing anti-regime protests that have rocked the Islamic republic.
The authorities have waged a brutal crackdown on the nationwide demonstrations that erupted in September, the biggest threat to the Islamic regime in years, killing hundreds of people and arresting thousands of others.
Namjoo-Motlagh, who did not reveal how he left Iran and traveled to Europe, is the latest athlete to seek refuge in the West after failing afoul of the clerical establishment.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Farda, Namjoo-Motlagh said he faced “constant threats and psychological pressure” from the Iran Wrestling Federation and other state bodies.
“It was clear where this was going,” said Namjoo-Motlagh, who is believed to have posted social-media posts that were critical of the authorities and supportive of the protests. “I would either lose my life or they would blind me, or in the best-case scenario, I would be sent to prison.”
The antiestablishment protests have attracted support from all corners of Iranian society, including athletes. Several well-known athletes and sports figures, including soccer legend Ali Daei, have been summoned or arrested in recent months by the police after showing support for the demonstrations.
Some Iranian athletes who have participated in international events have failed to return to their homeland and sought asylum in the West.
That includes Sara Khadem, a top female Iranian chess player who competed without a head scarf at an international tournament in Kazakhstan in December, in an apparent gesture of solidarity with the anti-regime protests. Khadem refused to return to Iran for fear of retribution and moved to Spain with her husband.
The Islamic head scarf, or hijab, is mandatory in Iran. Women who travel outside the country are also expected to observe it.
In October, Elnaz Rekabi, Iran’s female rock-climbing champion, competed in the Asian Championships in South Korea without a head scarf, in apparent support for the protests.
Rekabi’s supporters had expressed concerns about her safety after she returned to Iran in November. Weeks later, her family said police officers had destroyed their home. Her family was also reportedly fined.
Namjoo-Motlagh told Radio Farda that while some Iranian athletes had spoken up, many have remained silent in fear over their safety.
“It was extremely sad to see that members of the national wrestling team, soccer team, and others were condemned to silence for fear for their lives and the lives of their families,” said the lightweight wrestler.
Namjoo-Motlagh said Iranian athletes who “stand on the side of the truth” will end up like 27-year-old wrestler Navid Afkari, who was hanged in 2020 after being controversially convicted of killing a government employee during mass anti-government protests in 2018.
Afkari maintained that his confession was obtained through torture and his death sparked an international outcry.
Namjoo-Motlagh said he hopes to stand up to Iran’s clerical regime and fight for his compatriots from self-imposed exile.
“I will remain their voice until Iran is freed from oppression,” he said.
Source » rferl