One of Iran's most prominent footballers was arrested by security forces on accusations of spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic and attempting to insult the country's World Cup squad. Voria Ghafouri was training with his local club, Foolad Khuzestan, when police officers interrupted the camp and arrested the star footballer.
Ghafouri was not chosen to play for Iran's national team in the ongoing World Cup in Qatar, as he is believed to be a dissident by the country's regime. Ghafouri has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career. He has previously been detained for criticizing the former Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.
Arrested for Being Vocal
According to the Fars News agency, the 35-year-old was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of "tarnishing the reputation of the national team and spreading propaganda against the regime."
Ghafouri was also charged with assisting "rioters", a term used by the Islamic states to refer to the anti-government demonstrators, who have been demonstrating since the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16 while she was in the care of Iran's morality police.
Ghafouri, the former Iranian national football team player and Esteghlal club captain, has been vocal in his defense of Iranian Kurds, calling on the government to stop killing Kurdish people on social media. He is also one of the vocal supporters of anti-hijab protests.
There have been particularly violent protests and a crackdown by security forces in the country's western Kurdish region. Ghafouri, a Kurdish Iranian, has been a vocal critic of the Islamic regime and its bloody suppression of the rallies, which has resulted in at least 400 deaths.
Ghafouri was recently accused of being a Kurdish separatist by ministers, but he responded that he would devote his life for Iran. In recent times, Ghafouri demanded an end to the brutal crackdown on rallies in western Kurdistan, Iran.
Earlier this year, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: "Some people, who benefit from the country's peace and security, enjoying their jobs and their favorite sports, bite the hand that feeds them," a reference many believe was to Ghafouri.
Fighting for His Rights
Ghafouri was part of Iran's 2018 World Cup squad but was surprisingly not named in the final lineup for this year's World Cup in Qatar. He has appeared for Iran 28 times until 2019. Ghafouri was also the captain of Esteghlal, the top club in Iran, before his contract was broken and he transferred to Foolad Khuzestan.
Many fans speculated that Esteghlal's decision to terminate his contract was in retaliation to his vocal support of earlier protests that flared this summer.
Ghafouri has also objected to Iran's combative foreign policy, which has resulted in crushing Western sanctions, as well as the long-standing ban on women spectators at men's soccer games.
In 2019, the Iranian government summoned Ghafouri after he challenged the country's hawkish foreign policy. He claimed that Iranians were being harmed by the nation's policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria.
His arrest comes against the backdrop of the Iran football team showing defiance against the regime in a recent World Cup match in Qatar. The team did not sing the national anthem at their first match against England on Monday, inviting scrutiny from the officials.
On, Wednesday Iran footballers were sent a chilling warning from Tehran that they face retribution for "insulting" the country after the brave men decided not to sing their national anthem ahead of the Qatar World Cup match against England.
The team could now face the strictest punishment if they refuse to sing their national anthem in the remaining matches.
There were already calls for the team to be given asylum in the UK as there were fears that they may face prison or possibly death on returning to Iran. The chilling warning that came on Wednesday has now raised fears not only among the footballing world but also among human rights groups.