An Iranian powerlifter defected to Norway in late December after he was threatened with jail, torture and execution for refusing to wear a T-shirt featuring terrorist Gen. Qasem Soleimani who was killed by a U.S. airstrike in January 2020.
Amir Assadollahzadeh, 31, told CNN he was being pressured by a representative from the Iranian regime with the International Powerlifting Federation to wear the Soleimani t-shirt. He first sought asylum in Norway in November, fearing execution or torture by the Islamic Republic of Iran for his refusal to wear the shirt.
“I took what I needed for my journey and left,” Assadollahzadeh recalled. “I quickly ran towards the bus station, but I arrived five minutes too late. It was very dark, and I was very stressed.”
“I had no choice,” he said, later adding, “I refused to wear the shirt and I was confronted with threats. [I was told] ‘If you refuse to wear the shirt, upon your return to Iran, both you and your family will face problems. And you will be treated like someone who is against the regime and someone who has refused to work with us. Your life may also be in danger.’”
Assadollahzadeh, who has been competing for 18 years — including 11 with the Iranian national team — said he is “100 percent sure” that if he is forced to return to Iran, he will “face jail, torture, and maybe even worse than that – execution.”
The top athlete’s relationship with the Iranian regime first turned sour in early 2021 when he dedicated his bronze medal from the World Club League Championship to the healthcare professionals fighting COVID-19.
The gesture was not appreciated by the Iranian government, who demanded to know why Assadollahzadeh hadn’t dedicated his medal to Soleimani.
A powerful Iranian military commander, Soleimani oversaw the killing of more than 600 American military personnel before he was assassinated by a drone strike ordered by then-President Donald Trump on January 3, 2020.
Supporters of Soleimani commemorated the two-year anniversary of his death with tributes, insulted the U.S., attempted revenge, and demanded Trump be tried for the general’s death.
Assadollahzadeh told CNN that he never intended to get involved in politics.
“In these years that I have been an athlete I never had the intention to get involved in political issues, because I am an athlete and I have spent years of my life so that I can bring honor to myself, my people and my country,” Assadollahzadeh said.
In October, the United Nations revealed Iran had executed 250 people in 2020, and 230 people had been executed in the first 9 months of 2021, the Associated Press reported.