Sat. Dec 3rd, 2022

Iran on Thursday arrested a prominent former member of its national soccer team over his criticism of the government.

The authorities in Tehran have been struggling for several months with protests across the country that have now cast a shadow over its participation in the World Cup.

Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the football team and propaganda against the government”, Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported.

Ghafouri, who was not selected to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian authorities throughout his career.

He opposed a longstanding ban on women watching men’s football matches, as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.

He recently offered his condolences to the family of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police sparked the latest protests.

In recent days, he also called for an end to the violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s Western Kurdistan region.

The national team refuses to sing

Reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales.

In Iran’s opening game, a 6-2 loss to England, members of the Iranian national team refused to sing their national anthem, and some fans expressed support for the protests.

The protests were sparked by the September 16 death of Amina, a Kurdish woman, who was arrested by morality police in the capital, Tehran.

They quickly escalated into nationwide protests calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

The western Kurdish region of the country, where both Amini and Ghafouri are from, was the epicenter of the protests. Shops were closed in the region on Thursday following calls for a general strike.

Iranian officials have not said whether Ghafouri’s activism was a factor in not selecting him for the national team. He plays for the Khuzestan Foolad team in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.

Club president Hamidreza Garshasbi resigned later on Thursday, the ILNA news agency reported without giving details.

The protests show no signs of abating and mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power.

Human rights groups say security forces used live ammunition and birdshot on protesters, as well as beating and arresting them, with much of the violence caught on video.

At least 442 protesters have been killed and more than 18,000 detained since the unrest began, according to Human Rights in Iran, a group that monitors the protests.

Another football star was bypassed

The UN Human Rights Council voted Thursday to condemn the crackdown and establish an independent fact-finding mission to investigate alleged abuses, particularly those committed against women and children.

Authorities have blamed the unrest on hostile foreign forces without providing evidence and say separatists and other armed groups attacked security forces.

Human rights activists in Iran said at least 57 members of the security services were killed, while state media reported higher casualties.

Protesters say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women.

Young women took a leading role in the protests, removing the obligatory Islamic headscarf to express their rejection of clerical rule.

Some Iranians actively root against their own team at the World Cup, associating it with rulers they see as violent and corrupt.

Others insist that the national team, which includes players who have expressed solidarity with the protests on social media, represents the country’s citizens.

The team’s star forward, Sardar Azmoun, who has been vocal about the protests online, was on the bench during the opening game. In addition to Ghafouri, two other former soccer stars were arrested for expressing support for the protests.