DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran arrested a prominent member of its national soccer team on Thursday for criticizing the government amid nationwide protests that have cast a shadow over the World Cup.
The Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national football team and spreading propaganda against the government”.
Ghafouri, who was not selected to go to the World Cup, has been critical of the Iranian authorities throughout his career. He opposed the long-standing ban on female spectators at men’s soccer matches, as well as the easing of Western sanctions against Iran’s foreign policy.
Recently, he expressed his condolences to the family of a 22-year-old woman who died while in custody of Iran’s morality police.. They also called for an end to the violent action taken against the protests in recent days. in the western Kurdistan region of Iran.
Reports of his arrest come ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. In Iran’s opening match against England 6-2, members of the Iranian national team refused to sing their national anthem, and some fans expressed their support for the protest..
The protests were sparked by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by morality police in the capital, Tehran. They rushed to nationwide demonstrations to overthrow the Islamic Republic. The western Kurdish region of the country, home to Amini and Ghafouri, has been the center of the protests. Shops in the region were closed following a general strike call.
Iranian officials did not say whether Ghafouri’s activism was the reason for not selecting him for the national team. He plays for the Khuzestan Fulad team in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. The club’s chairman, Hamidreza Garshasbi, resigned later Thursday, the semi-official ELNA news agency reported.
The protests show no sign of abating and are one of the biggest challenges facing the ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought them to power. Activists said security forces used live ammunition and birdshot against protesters, as well as beatings and arrests, much of the violence captured on video.
At least 442 protesters have been killed and more than 18,000 arrested since the violence began, according to Iranian human rights activists monitoring the protests.
The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Thursday to condemn the move and to create an independent investigative team to investigate violations, particularly of women and children.
Officials, without providing evidence, said that foreign forces were responsible for the violence, and that separatists and other armed forces had attacked security forces. Iranian human rights activists said at least 57 security forces had been killed, while state media reported the toll was higher.
The protesters say they are tired of decades of social and political oppression, including strict dress codes imposed on women. Young women played a leading role in the protest, removing the obligatory Islamic headscarf to express their disapproval of religious leaders.
Some Iranians are actively defecting to their own team at the World Cup, associating them with regimes that are ruthless and corrupt. Others say the national team, which includes players who have spoken out on social media in solidarity with the protest, represents the people of the country.
The team’s star forward Sardar Azmoun sat out the opening game. In addition to Ghafouri, two other former soccer stars have been jailed for protesting.
Other Iranian athletes have also been brought into the fray.
Iranian rock star Elnaz Rekhabi competed in an international competition in South Korea in October without wearing the mandatory headscarf, a move widely seen as a sign of support for the protests. She was given a hero’s welcome On their return to Iran, they may have been forced into an interview with the opposition, although they told state media that the move was “unintended”.
Earlier this month, Iran’s football federation threatened to punish players on its beach soccer team after beating Brazil in an international tournament in Dubai. One of the players, a woman with a haircut, celebrated after scoring a goal by mimicking an opponent.