A top Iranian footballer has been arrested for criticising the government, according to reports.
Voria Ghafouri, who is one of the most famous players in the country, had previously played for the national team but was not selected for the World Cup squad. The arrest comes after the Iran players refused to sing the anthem during the game against England on Monday (21 November).
Ghafouri has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities and policies throughout his career. The Guardian reports that he has spoken up in defence of Iranian Kurds, telling the government on social media to stop killing Kurdish people and that he had previously been detained for criticising the former Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.
The footballer currently plays for Foolad in Iran and had previously been captain of the Tehran club Esteghlal. The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on Thursday (24 November) that he was arrested for insulting the national team, who are currently playing in the World Cup, and criticising the government.
The reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. Iran has been convulsed by anti-government protests for more than two months, the biggest challenge to its Islamic theocracy in more than a decade.
At Iran’s opening match against England, the members of the Iranian team declined to sing along to the national anthem and some fans protested during the match. The protests were ignited by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman in the custody of the country’s morality police in September.
They rapidly escalated into nationwide demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The western Kurdish region of the country has seen particularly intense protests and a deadly crackdown by security forces.
What happened to Nika Shakarami?
Nika Shakarami was a 16-year-old girl from Tehran. The teenager had joined in on the protests - which have been continuing in Iran since 16 September - by burning her headscarf on 20 September.
The moment was filmed and posted to social media. In the video, Nika can be seen standing on a dumpster as she burns the piece of fabric in her hand, while supporters around her chanted anti-government and anti-Islamic Republic slogans.
Mika then told a friend that was being chased by police, with eyewitnesses telling CNN that they had seen her being arrested by “several big security officers”. She went missing on the same day, and later was found dead.
Iranian authorities said that Nika’s body was found in a courtyard, but did not allow for her mother, Ms Shakarami, to identify her daughter until eight days after her death. A prosecutor would later say that Nika’s death was not connected to the protests, with confusion over whether authorities were searching for a perpetrator after saying she had been pushed or had fallen from the roof.
Ms Shakarami, Nika’s mother, has accused the authorities of killing her daughter. Iranian state media released footage of a young woman walking into a building, similar to that of the one Nika died in.