Iranian soccer player Voria Ghafouri was arrested during the World Cup inspection


A prominent Iranian soccer player was arrested Thursday on charges that included defaming the country’s national team competing in the World Cup, Iranian state media reported Thursday.

Player Voria Ghafouri is a former member of the Iranian national team and a frequent critic of the government. His arrest comes at a time when Iranian soccer players are under scrutiny for their comments about Iran’s months-long nationwide uprising.

Iran’s World Cup team gives a tacit nod to protests at home

Iran’s national team refused to sing during the playing of the country’s national anthem during Monday’s game against England, in what was widely seen as a tacit endorsement of the protests. Iran’s national broadcaster showed select images of spectators cheering for Iran during the match, but not the political signs some were carrying.

Protests in Iran began in September after Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, died in police custody. The uprising against Iran’s clerical leadership has spread across the country and sparked a ruthless and deadly crackdown, including in ethnic Kurdish areas where rights groups say dozens have been killed in recent days.

UN Human Rights Council v vote on Thursday launched an investigation into alleged rights abuses in Iran’s response to the protest movement. “Today’s meeting leaves no doubt that the members of the HRC are aware of the seriousness of the situation in Iran, and the fact-finding mission established today will help ensure that those involved in the continued violent suppression of the Iranian people are identified and their actions documented,” the U.S. Secretary of State said in a statement Antony Blinken.

Human rights organizations say Iran is escalating its crackdown on Kurdish areas

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, has criticized government officials on social media in the past and recently posted messages on Twitter condemning the killing of Kurds. Iranian news reports did not specify the reasons for his arrest, but said the charges included “spreading propaganda against” the Islamic Republic.

He has been called up several times to play for the national team over the past ten years and has played for several Iranian club teams including Foolad Khuzestan, his current team. The semi-official news agency ISNA announced on Thursday that Hamidreza Garshasbi, the team’s general manager, had resigned, saying the reason for his resignation had not yet been announced.

Even before the World Cup began, some Iranians demanded that FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, ban the national team, known as Team Melli, as a sign of support for the protests. Others argued that Iran’s participation in the World Cup was a benefit to the uprising: a high-profile event that gave players and spectators the opportunity to voice their disapproval of the international media.

Iran face Wales on Friday.

World Cup in Qatar

Live Updates: The final eight teams making their debuts in Qatar will take on Thursday in Groups G and H. Follow the latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw against Wales in their opening Group B match. The US men’s national team will face a bigger task on Friday against Group B favorites England, who demolished Iran 6-2 earlier on Monday.

Qatar Controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were denied entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public to remove the symbol.

Groups Guide: The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star forward Christian Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement over its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a detailed look at how all the teams in each group fared placed.

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