Iranian soccer player arrested after brave protest
United Arab Emirates: DUBAI As authorities deal with widespread protests that have cast a shadow over its World Cup campaign, Iran detained a prominent former player of its national soccer team on Thursday for his criticism of the administration.
Voria Ghafouri was detained, according to the semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies, for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the administration.”
Ghafouri, who was not selected to represent Iran at the World Cup, has long been a vocal opponent of the Iranian government. He criticized Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has resulted in crippling Western sanctions, as well as the long-standing prohibition on women watching men’s soccer games.
More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman, the death of whom the morality police in Iran used to spark the most recent demonstrations. He has recently demanded an end to the brutal crackdown on protests in western Kurdistan, Iran.
Prior to Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales, news of his detention broke. The Iranian national team refused to sing along to their national anthem during Iran’s opening match, a 6-2 loss against England, and some fans supported the protests.
The protests started after Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman detained by Tehran’s morality police on September 16, died. They quickly turned into widespread protests demanding the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Both Amini and Ghafouri are from the country’s western Kurdish region, which has been the focal point of the demonstrations. On Thursday, businesses in the area were shuttered as a result of calls for a nationwide strike.
Iranian authorities are silent on whether Ghafouri’s advocacy played a role in his exclusion from the national squad. He represents the Khuzestan Foolad squad in Ahvaz, a city in the southwest. Later on Thursday, according to the unofficial ILNA news agency, the club’s chairman, Hamidreza Garshasbi, resigned.
One of the largest threats to Iran’s ruling mullahs since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that put them in power, the protests show no signs of abating. Rights organizations claim that security personnel beat and arrested demonstrators as well as used live gunfire and bird shot on them, with much of the violence being documented on camera.
According to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been keeping track of the protests, at least 442 protesters have died and more than 18,000 have been arrested since the unrest began.
Some Iranians are openly rooting against their own team during the World Cup because they associate it with violent and dishonest leaders. Others assert that the national team, which features players who have publicly shown their support for the protests on social media, speaks for the nation’s citizens.
Sardar Azmoun, the team’s top forward, who has been outspoken about the protests online, sat on the bench for the first game. Two other former soccer stars have also been detained for showing support for the protesters, in addition to Ghafouri.
The conflict has also included other Iranian athletes.