Iranian soccer player arrested amid World Cup scrutiny

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – Iran arrested a prominent former player of its national soccer team on Thursday amid nationwide protests and clashes across Iran.

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

Ghafoori, who was not selected for the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian authorities throughout his career. In addition to the long-standing ban on female fans at national football matches, Iran’s confrontational foreign policy has also protested against the ban, which has undermined Western sanctions.

Condolences to the family of a 22-year-old woman who recently died in the custody of Iran’s morality police.. In recent days, he has also called for an end to the violent crackdown on protests. in the Kurdistan region of western Iran

The arrests came before Friday’s World Cup qualifier between Iran and Wales. In Iran’s opening match against England 6-2, the Iranian national team refused to sing their national anthem and some fans protested..

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Protests erupted in the capital, Tehran, on September 16, when Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman who was arrested by police on good behavior, was killed. They have fueled nationwide protests calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The Kurdish region in the west of the country, home to both Amini and Ghafouri, has been at the heart of the protests. Shops in the region were closed on Thursday after a general strike was called.

Iranian officials did not say that Ghafouri’s dynamism was a factor in not selecting him for the national team. He plays for Khuzestan Foolad in southwestern Ahvaz. The club’s president, Hamidreza Garshasbi, resigned late Thursday, ILNA news agency reported, without elaborating.

The protests show no sign of abating and are one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Human rights groups said that security forces fired bullets and used birdshot projectiles to beat and arrest protesters.

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At least 442 protesters have been killed and more than 18,000 detained since the unrest began, according to Iranian human rights activists monitoring the protests.

The UN Human Rights Council voted Thursday to condemn the crackdown. To create an independent fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of abuse, particularly against women and children.

Authorities have blamed the unrest on hostile foreign powers, and said separatists and other armed groups have attacked security forces. According to human rights activists in Iran, at least 57 security forces were killed, but state media reported that the death toll was higher.

Protesters say they are fed up with decades of social and political oppression, including a strict dress code against women. Young women played a central role in the protests, removing the mandatory Islamic headscarves to express their rejection of religious rule.

Some Iranians are actively rooting for their team at the World Cup and associating it with rulers they view as harsh and corrupt. Others claim that the national team, whose players have spoken out in solidarity on social media in protest, represents the nation’s people.

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The team’s star striker, Sardar Azmoun, lashed out at the protests online during the opening match. Besides Ghafouri, Two other former soccer stars were arrested for expressing support for the protests.

Other Iranian athletes also struggled.

Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in an international competition in South Korea in October without wearing the mandatory headscarf, widely seen in support of the protests. She received a hero’s welcome. On her return to Iran, she told state media that the move was “unintentional” in an interview that could be repressed by protesters.

Earlier this month, Iran’s football federation threatened to punish players from its beach soccer team after they beat Brazil in an international tournament in Dubai. One of the players celebrated after scoring a goal by cutting his hair and imitating a female protester.

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