Iran arrests popular footballer for supporting protest

Famous footballer Voria Ghafouri was detained by Iranian security forces on the grounds of tarnish[ing] the reputation of the national squad and propaganda against Iran.

Famous footballer Voria Ghafouri was detained by Iranian security forces on the grounds of “tarnish[ing] the reputation of the national squad” and “propaganda” against Iran.

Ghafouri, who is of Kurdish descent and has passionately backed the protests that have shaken the country since September, was arrested following a club training session on Thursday, the Fars news agency reported.

Ghafouri has previously played for Iran’s national football team. Still, he was left off the squad for this year’s World Cup in Qatar when the team decided not to perform the national anthem before their opening game against England.

Ghafouri, who has played for Esteghlal, one of Iran’s major clubs, is among the most prominent figures arrested in a widescale crackdown on protestors, particularly in the western Kurdish areas from which he belongs, with rights groups estimating scores have been killed over the last week alone.

Iran has experienced more than two months of demonstrations, prompted by the death in detention of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, herself of Kurdish ancestry, after being arrested for an alleged infraction of the country’s strict dress code for women.

On his social media accounts, Ghafouri had passionately backed the protests and reported visiting Kurdish-populated parts of western Iran to show solidarity with families of those slain during the demonstrations.

Kurdish-focused rights group Hengaw, located in Norway, also reported he had been arrested, sharing an Instagram picture that the player had uploaded of himself in traditional Kurdish clothing.

Ghafouri received special praise for paying a visit to the little daughter of a woman killed during the protests and presenting her with a tablet as a gift.

“Voria stood behind his people and paid for it. We should also stand alongside him and not let him be alone,” tweeted United States-based activist Masih Alinejad.

Former Iranian international footballer Ali Karimi, another prominent supporter of the protests, also tweeted the same photo on his Twitter account to support the player.

“For the honourable Voria,” he wrote.

Ghafouri was formerly Esteghlal’s captain before his contract was cancelled, and he went to Foolad Khuzestan.