– Iran has arrested a prominent former member of its national team over his criticism of the government as authorities grapple with nationwide protests that have cast a shadow over the team as they compete in the World Cup before a global audience.
– The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported Thursday that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national football team and propagandising against the government.”
– Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career, objecting to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s football matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.
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– More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police ignited the latest protests.
– In recent days he also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdish region.
– The reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales.
– At Iran’s opening match, a 6-2 loss to England, the members of the Iranian national team declined to sing along to their national anthem and some fans protested.
– The protests were ignited by the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman arrested by the morality police in the capital, Tehran.
– They rapidly escalated into nationwide demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.
– The western Kurdish region of the country, where Amini was from, has seen particularly intense protests and a deadly crackdown by security forces.
– Ghafouri, who is also a member of Iran’s Kurdish minority, has criticised government policies in the past.
– Officials have not said whether that was a factor in not choosing him for the national team.
– He plays for the Khuzestan Foolad team in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
– The protests show no sign of waning, and mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power.
– Authorities have blamed the unrest on hostile foreign powers, without providing evidence.
– The protesters say they are fed up after decades of social and political repression, including a strict dress code imposed on women.