A famous Iranian soccer player, critic of power, arrested

A famous Iranian soccer player, critic of power, arrested

Iranian authorities on Thursday arrested a former Kurdish international soccer player who has been a vocal supporter of the protests that have rocked the Islamic Republic since September, accusing him of “propaganda” against the state, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.

Voria Ghafouri, 35, selected to represent Iran 28 times until 2019, is one of the high-profile figures arrested in the crackdown on the protest movement that has erupted since the death of a young Kurdish woman on September 16 for imposing regime-imposed morality police did not respect strict dress code.

Accused of “insulting and damaging the reputation of the national team (Team Melli) and propaganda” against the state, he was arrested after a training session for his team “Folad (Steel, in Persian) from Khuzestan,” the decision of the judicial authority, according to Fars.

Hengaw, a Norway-based non-governmental organization that defends Kurdish rights, confirmed his arrest and released a photo of him in traditional Kurdish attire, which was also posted on Twitter by another former Iran international, Ali Karimi.

“For the honorable Voria,” commented Ali Karimi, who himself supports the demonstrators.

Norway-based NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) estimates that 416 people were killed and 15,000 arrested in the raid, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran.

NGOs have also expressed concern over the situation in the country’s western Kurdish regions, with human rights groups claiming dozens of people have been killed there in the past week alone.

“Support Voria”

On social media, Ghafouri, who is from Sanandaj, the capital of Iran’s Kurdistan Province, vigorously supported the protests. He also posted a photo of himself in traditional Kurdish clothing on his Instagram account and traveled to Kurdish-populated areas of Iran to express his solidarity with the families of the victims of the crackdown.

He was praised by protest movement supporters for visiting the young daughter of a woman killed during a protest with a tablet as a gift.

‚ÄúVoria supported her people and paid for them. We should also support him and not leave him alone,” Iranian-American activist Masih Alinejad tweeted.

Former Esteghlal captain Ghafouri was forced to leave the top club in July before his contract expired and joined Foolad Khuzestan FC.

Many fans have suggested the end of his Esteghlal career was as a result of his speaking out over previous protests last summer. Others argued that in his mid-thirties, Ghafouri was already too old for the Iranian elite.

His arrest comes as the spotlight in Qatar is on the Iranian team. The ‘Team Melli’ players decided on Monday not to sing their national anthem ahead of their game against England, a decision interpreted as showing support for protesters and opponents in Iran.

Iran’s Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz then explained that his players, who were defeated 6-2 by England, were scarred by the political situation in their country and demanded that they be “let play football”.