Iran arrests a prominent former national football team member for criticizing the government
Post Date – 11:45 PM, Thursday – 11/24/22
Dubai: Iran has arrested a prominent former member of its national football team for criticizing the government, as authorities grapple with nationwide protests that have cast a shadow over Iran’s World Cup participation in front of a global audience.
The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on Thursday that Voria Ghafouri had been arrested for “insulting the national football team and anti-government propaganda”. Ghafuli, who was not selected for the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career, arguing against a long-standing ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches and Iran’s confrontational foreign policy that has led to Western sanctions.
Most recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman who died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police, sparking the latest protests. In recent days, he has also called for an end to the violent crackdown on protests in the Kurdish region of western Iran.
Reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. Some fans protested after Iran’s national team refused to sing the national anthem during Iran’s 6-2 opening game loss to England.
The protests were sparked on Sept. 16 by the death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman arrested by morality police in the capital, Tehran. They quickly escalated into nationwide demonstrations demanding the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. Amini is from the Kurdish region in the west of the country, where the protests have been particularly violent and have been fatally cracked down by security forces.
Ghafouri is also part of Iran’s Kurdish minority and has criticized government policies in the past. Officials did not say whether that was a factor in not selecting him for the national team. He plays for the Khuzestan Foolad team in the southwestern city of Ahwaz.
The protests show no signs of abating and mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s ruling clergy since the Islamic Revolution brought them to power in 1979. Authorities blamed the unrest on a hostile foreign power, but provided no evidence.
Protesters say they are fed up with decades of social and political repression, including strict dress codes imposed on women.