The 2022 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Qatar on November 20 with a match between the Qatar and Ecuador.
The world of sports usually views the upcoming tournament as one of the most important international sports events, but for Iranians the situation is noticeably different from before. Like everything else in the society, from the economy and politics to culture and sports, football has been impacted by the nationwide protests triggered by the September death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police.
How many reporters, photojournalists and cameramen do you think are going to travel to Qatar to cover the World Cup? Qatar has confirmed that 12,300 journalists have been accredited to cover the tournament. And, on November 7, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) quoted Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili as saying that 70 Iranian journalists, including 45 reporters and 25 photojournalists, will travel to the Persian Gulf country.
Esmaeili said that the Islamic Republic views the World Cup as an important cultural event that can increase social cohesion and solidarity, and create a more joyful atmosphere in the country. However, 11 days ahead of the start of the competition, at least four sports journalists and photojournalists were kept behind bars in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Niloofar Hamedi, a reporter for the newspaper Shargh, was arrested on September 22. She is a well-known social and sports journalist who, in recent years, has covered all sports at all levels, regardless of gender. She has been incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison since her arrest, and nobody has been allowed to visit her.
Aria Jafari, an award-winning photojournalist with the ISNA news agency, was arrested on September 25 at his home in the central city of Isfahan. Nothing is known about the charges against him if any. There have been recent reports saying Jafari, who is being held incommunicado, is in poor health and needs medical care.
Jafari has won several awards, including two for Iran’s Press Photo of the Year. In recent years he covered competitions in Isfahan for ISNA, both in men’s and women’s sports. He is also a former member of Iran’s National Canoeing Team.
Saeedeh Fathi, a freelance reporter who has covered sports for two decades, was arrested on October 16 at her home in Tehran, and has been detained since then without charge. Her work has been praised by the International Sports Press Association (AIPS), an organization she is a member of. Fathi has been kept incommunicado since her arrest.
Ehsan Pirbornash, a reporter for the state-run sports newspaper Iran Varzeshi and the editor-in-chief of the sports website Varzesh Bank, was arrested on October 28 at his home in Tehran in the presence of his family. Pirbornash is also a member of the editorial board of the independent sports website Varzesh Media. Before his arrest, he was scheduled to travel to Qatar to cover the World Cup. His whereabouts remain unknown.
On October 31, the Society of Iranian Sports Writers, Journalist and Reporters (ISJA) issued a vague statement expressing hope that the jailed journalists’ cases will be processed “quickly” and “justly.” It did not name any of the journalists in question.
Over the past several weeks, many sports reporters and photojournalists in Iran have been repeatedly threatened in various ways. They have been summoned by security services and have received anonymous phone calls as well as threats via text messages. As a result, many of them have stopped short of commenting or posting on social media.
While 12,3000 sports reporters from across the world prepare to cover the World Cup in Qatar, some of their Iranian colleagues are behind bars, wondering about their fates, while others are being threatened with imprisonment.