The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has threatened Iranian footballers with violence and imprisonment ahead of the crucial grudge match against the United States in the World Cup on Tuesday, according to reports.
The feared military wing of the clerical regime has told Iranian footballers that their families back home will face measures including torture and imprisonment if they fail to 'behave' ahead of the match against the United States.
Tehran fears that the players might be persuaded to take actions such as refusing to sing the national anthem or enacting any other form of political protest ahead of the match against the US. A US-Iran tie in the World Cup will be watched across the globe with key interest as the nations are arch rivals. Any political protest by its players ahead of the match will be a huge embarrassment for Tehran, which has been battling huge popular protest after the regime killed 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini for allegedly improperly wearing the hijab.
CNN reported that a huge posse of IRGC operatives are camping out in Qatar and are monitoring the players and collecting information. The IRGC also held a meeting with the players, wherein they were given the strictest warning, the report says.
The operatives told the players that their families would face "violence and and torture" if they did not sing the national anthem or if they joined any political protest against the Tehran regime, the report said, citing a source familiar with the matter.
IRGC Operatives in Qatar
"There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players," the source told the network.
The United States and Iran will face off on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. ET to book a berth in the knockout stage of the tournament. While Iran will go throuogh to the pre-quarter level with even a draw, the US will need to defeat Iran to progress to the next level.
Iranian players had refused to sing the national anthem ahead of their first match against England last week. "Conditions in our country are not right, and our people are not happy," Iranian team captain Ehsan Hajsafi said after the match. He also added that the team believed that they should let the victims' families know that they are with them, support them and sympathize with them.
Fear of Reprisals
Following the Iranian team's refusal to sing the national anthem, many fans in the stadium booed and jeered while the anthem was being played. After the stunning display of rebellion by the Iranian players and protesters, many geopolitical experts had said that they faced serious trouble back home. David E. Guinn, a University of Albany research professor of international law and human rights, told Newsweek that that Iran's National Revolutionary Guards will identify the protesters inside the stadium and pursue them. "I have no doubt that the Iranian security services Revolutionary Guard will attempt to identify them, particularly those who were carrying signs, and dig into their backgrounds looking for anything to justify a detention or arrest," Guinn added.
Another expert said the prospect of Iranian players being punished is quite strong. "The Iranian regime has demonstrated its willingness to mete out harsh punishments for those seeking to draw attention to its human rights violations, so it is easy to imagine the players being punished," said Scott Sullivan, a professor of public international law and human rights at Louisiana State University.