Iranian security forces on Thursday arrested one of the country’s most famous footballers, accusing him of spreading propaganda against the Islamic republic and seeking to undermine the world Cup crew.
Voria Ghafouri, once captain of club Tehran Esteghlal, was outspoken in his defense of Iran Kurds, telling the government on social media to stop killing Kurds. He was previously detained for criticizing former Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.
Iran are due to face Wales on Friday. The Iranian team has already involved in a controversy after failing to sing the national anthem ahead of their game against England, and Ghafouri’s arrest is likely to be seen as a warning to players not to repeat their protests.
He was arrested after a training session with his club, Foolad Khuzestan, accused of having “tarnished the reputation of the national team and disseminated propaganda against the state”, reported the news agency Fars.
Other agencies said he was accused of “insult and intent to destroy the national football team and speak out against the regime”.
In recent days ministers have accused Ghafouri of being a Kurdish separatist, but he has replied that he would give his life to Iran. Earlier this year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “Some people, enjoying the peace and security of the country, enjoying their jobs and favorite sports, bite the hand that feeds them. “, a reference that many thought to be in Ghafouri. .
The 35-year-old footballer was a member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup squad but surprisingly was not named in the final roster for this year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Originally from the Kurdish-populated city of Sanandaj in western Iran, Ghafouri had posted a photo on Instagram of himself in traditional Kurdish attire in the mountains of Kurdistan, but is a cult hero beyond the world. northwestern Iran. Sanandaj suffered some of the most violent crackdowns during protests following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, and Ghafouri visited some of those injured in protests in Mahabad.
In 2019, he handed out blue jerseys in honor of Sahar Khodayari, a woman who set herself on fire after being sentenced to prison for trying to watch an Esteghlal match at Azadi Stadium. Following another incident of violence against female football fans in 2021, Ghafouri wrote on Instagram: “As a footballer, I have indeed become humiliated when playing at a time when our mothers and sisters do not have the right to enter stadiums.
Many fans have suggested that his career at Esteghlal, a championship-winning side, was cut short in June as punishment for speaking out. Others argued that in his mid-thirties, Ghafouri was too old for Iran’s elite.
He recently tweeted: “Stop killing Kurds!!! The Kurds are Iran itself… Killing Kurds is tantamount to killing Iran. If you are indifferent to killing people, you are not an Iranian and you are not even a human being… All the tribes are from Iran. Don’t kill people!!!”