Iran arrests footballer over coronavirus Instagram posts

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Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested Iranian football player Mohammad Mokhtari for criticising the authorities’ handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

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Mokhtari, who is the captain of Damash Gilan football club, had said that the official coronavirus figures in Iran are only a small percentage of the real figures.

“By God, over 100 people are dying every day from coronavirus in Gilan province alone. They have run out of graves,” Mokhtari wrote on Instagram on Tuesday.

“The corpses are piling up … the [official] figures in the media are only a small percentage of the truth,” he added.

As of Friday, 514 in Iran have died from the virus and there are 11,364 confirmed cases, according to the health ministry.

Mokhtari also criticised the Basij, a paramilitary arm of the IRGC.

“Brothers of the Basij who attack the people over the smallest of protests, why are you afraid and not there to close the entrance of your city?” he wrote.

“Do not be like the clerics of Qom who have left the people of their city all alone and gone into hiding in the good places with their own people,” the 36-year-old added.

State media reported on Thursday that Mokhtari has been arrested by the IRGC intelligence organization.

“The player had made harsh statements against the country’s authorities on his Instagram page and he was eventually arrested,” the semi-official ILNA news agency said.

Iranians have launched a hashtag in Persian on Twitter in support of Mokhtari that reads: “Mohammad Mokhtari is the voice of the Iranian people.”

Mokhtari’s province, Gilan, has been one of the epicenters of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

A lawmaker from Gilan had previously said that the death toll from coronavirus in Iran is “much higher” than the official death toll.

“I have statistics about the number of deaths due to coronavirus from three different cemeteries in Rasht and I have to say that the numbers are much higher than what is being said,” he said.

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