Iranian security forces arrested a former national soccer player today for criticizing the government’s crackdown on protests that have engulfed the Islamic Republic for months. Voria Ghafouri, who was dropped from the Iran national team before the World Cup in Qatar, was arrested after a training session with his local club Foolad Khuzestan in Iran.
The 35 year old player was arrested on charges that he had “tarnished the reputation of the national team and spread anti-state propaganda,” the Fars News agency reported. Ghafouri was also accused of supporting ‘rioters’, a term used by Islamic State to refer to anti-government protesters who have demonstrated after the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran’s moral police on September 16.
Ghafouri, who is also a member of Iran’s Kurdish minorityhas openly criticized the Islamic regime and its violent crackdown on protests, which has caused the death of at least 400 people. He was included as a member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup squad, but was not named in the final lineup for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Ghafouri was previously the captain of Iran’s top club Esteghlal before his contract was terminated and he moved to Foolad Khuzestan. Many fans suggested that the end of his career with Esteghlal was revenge for speaking out in support of earlier protests that broke out this summer.
Ghafouri has also been opposite in the past to a longstanding ban on women being spectators in men’s soccer matches, as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.
In 2019, Ghafouri was subpoenaed by Iranian authorities after he criticized Iran’s hardline foreign policy. He said the country’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria were hurting the Iranians. His arrest occurs when Iranian soccer players competing in the World Cup were warned by officials in Tehran that they would face reprisals for their ‘insulting’ decision not to sing their national anthem before Qatar’s World Cup match against England.
The team could face retaliation if it refuses to sing Iran’s national anthem in its remaining World Cup matches, warned an Iranian politician, meaning all eyes will be on the team during their game against Wales on Friday.
The Iranian national team may now face retaliation for its act of defiance after Chamran said on Tuesday: “We will never allow anyone to insult our anthem and our flag.”
Meanwhile, a senior British politician said the risk to the lives of the Iranian players is now “grave and severe” after they refused to sing the national anthem. Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, who chairs the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said Britain should support Iran’s international footballers if they apply for asylum following their “very bold and courageous political statement”.
Iran’s heavily censored media made little mention of the Iranian team did not sing the national anthem, but the ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan criticized “certain players” for remaining silent. During the soccer match, Iranian fans in the stands chanted Amini’s name, they carried signs and wore T-shirts with protest slogans and booed him during the national anthem.
Iran’s national team has come under enormous pressure from protesters to show their support in the run-up to the world soccer championship.
The players faced a barrage of public criticism last week after meeting President Ebrahim Raisi at a farewell ceremony, where they remained silent on the issue of the protests. Some players were photographed bowing respectfully to Raisi.
Even as Iran’s national team performs on the world stage in Qatar, Iranian security forces continue to brutalize protesters. More than 400 civilians are believed to have been killed since the protests began in late September, with many more injured and arrested.
Iran has been rocked by more than two months of anti-regime demonstrations sparked by the death of Amini in police custody after she was arrested for not wearing the mandatory hijab. (YO)