Iranian authorities have arrested Voria Ghafouri, a former member of the country’s national football team, for criticizing the government during the ongoing nationwide protests, local media report.
The semiofficial Tasnim and Fars news agency said on November 24 that Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national football team" and for "propagandizing against the government.”
Ghafouri, a member of Iran’s Kurdish minority, plays for the Khuzestan Foolad team in the southwestern city of Ahvaz. He was not chosen to go to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
More than two months of widespread anti-government protests demanding more freedoms and women's rights and the fierce state crackdown on demonstrators have cast a shadow over Iran’s national football team as it competes in the World Cup.
Ghafouri’s reported arrest comes ahead of a November 25 match between Iran and Wales. At Iran’s opening match on November 21, a 6-2 loss to England, the team declined to sing along to the national anthem.
Ghafouri has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities and policies, objecting to a ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches, among other things. In recent days, he called for an end to a bloody clampdown on demonstrations in Iran’s western Kurdish regions.
The current wave of protests was sparked by the September death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of Tehran’s morality police. She had been arrested for an alleged breach of the country's strict dress code.
At least 416 people, including 51 children and 27 women, have been killed in the brutal crackdown by security forces on the protests, according to one human rights group. Thousands of people have also been arrested.
At least six people have so far been sentenced to death over the demonstrations, which have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.