Iranian international footballer Voria Ghafouri has been arrested over accusations he ‘spread propaganda’ against the Islamic republic.
The right-back was arrested by Iranian security forces after a training session with his club today.
He was arrested on charges of having ‘tarnished the reputation of the national team and spread propaganda against the state,’ an agency said.
Ghafouri, 35, who plays for Foolad Khuzestan in Iran, has been a vocal critic of the regime and its violent crackdown on protests.
He was listed as a member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup squad but was not named in the final lineup playing at this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Originally from the Kurdish-populated city of Sanandaj in western Iran, Ghafouri had posted a photo of himself on Instagram dressed in traditional Kurdish dress.
It comes after thousands of people protested after 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini died three days after collapsing in police custody.
Iran has arrested several footballing figures for voicing criticism since the protests began, including Parviz Boroumand, Hossein Mahini, Hamidreza Aliasgari, and Yahya Golmohammadi.
Prominent former Iranian footballers Ali Karimi and Ali Daei have also come under fire from authorities for expressing support for protesters.
Many Iranians have turned against their national football team amid the ongoing unrest in the country.
They see the team as representing the regime rather than the people of Iran.
Ghafouri was formerly the captain of Iran’s leading club Esteghlal before his contract was terminated and he moved to Foolad Khuzestan.
Many fans suggested the ending of his career with Esteghlal was revenge for speaking out in support of earlier protests that erupted this summer.
Others argued that in his mid-30s Ghafouri was already too old for the Iranian top flight.
Some in Iran went as far as celebrating Iran’s 6-2 defeat in its opening World Cup match against England in Qatar on Monday, posts on social media showed.
The Iranian players chose not to sing their country’s national anthem at the match against England, in an apparent show of support for the protests.
But the gesture was largely dismissed as too little, too late by many Iranians on social media and failed to win back their support.
The protests sparked by Amini’s death have become one of the boldest challenges to the Islamic Republic since its establishment in 1979, with demonstrators calling for regime change.
At least 416 people, including 51 children and 27 women, have been killed by security forces in the protests, Oslo-based rights group Iran Human Rights (IHR) said on Tuesday.
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