Iran on Thursday arrested Iranian Kurdish footballer Voria Ghafouri for supporting the ongoing anti-regime protests in the country, state news agency IRNA reported.
Citing an unnamed source, IRNA said Ghafouri was arrested for engaging in “propaganda against the regime” and supporting “rioters,” a term Tehran uses to refer to anti-regime protesters.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said Ghafouri was arrested on charges of “insulting” the Iranian national football team and “propagandizing against the regime.”
Ghafouri, a right-back who currently plays for Foolad Khuzestan in Iran, has been a vocal critic of the regime and its violent crackdown on protests that have swept across Iran since September 16 when 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died three days after collapsing in police custody.
Iran has arrested several footballing figures for voicing criticism since the protests began, including Parviz Boroumand, Hossein Mahini, Hamidreza Aliasgari, and Yahya Golmohammadi.
Prominent former Iranian footballers Ali Karimi and Ali Daei have also come under fire from authorities for expressing support for protesters.
Many Iranians have turned against their national football team amid the ongoing unrest in the country. They see the team as representing the regime rather than the people of Iran. Some in Iran went as far as celebrating Iran’s 6-2 defeat in its opening World Cup match against England in Qatar on Monday, posts on social media showed.
The Iranian players chose not to sing their country’s national anthem at the match against England, in an apparent show of support for the protests.
But the gesture was largely dismissed as too little, too late by many Iranians on social media and failed to win back their support.
The protests sparked by Amini’s death have become one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979, with demonstrators calling for regime change.
At least 416 people, including 51 children and 27 women, have been killed by security forces in the protests, Oslo-based rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said on Tuesday.