Iranian soccer player during the World Cup

By The Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran suspended a prominent former member of its national soccer team on Thursday amid criticism of the regime’s opposition to the country’s opposition, which has overshadowed its competition at the World Cup.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the nation’s disease and propagating against the government.”

Ghafouri, who did not want to go to the World Cup, has been a prominent critic of the Iranian authorities throughout his career. He objected to the long-standing ban on female spectators at men’s soccer matches and the confrontational foreign policy of Iran, which led to the lifting of Western sanctions.

More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in Iran’s moral police custody sparked recent protests. In recent days, he also called an end to violent protests in the Kurdistan region of western Iran.

Reports of the arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. In Iran’s opening match, a 6-2 loss in England, members of the Iranian national team refused to sing along with the national anthem and some expressed disapproval.

Complaints in Sept. 16 were fired before the death of Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman arrested by the moral police in the capital city of Tehran. They quickly fled into nationwide demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Islamic State. The western Kurdish region, where both Amin and Ghafour are, has been the epicenter of the protests. Shops are closed in the country on Thursday, the day after the general census.

Iranian officials have not said whether Ghafouri’s activism was a factor in not selecting him for the national team. He plays for the Khuzestan Foolad team in the city of Ahvaz in the afternoon. Club president Hamidreza Garshasbi resigned later on Thursday, the semiofficial agency ILNA reported without elaborating.

The protests show no sign of abating and one of the biggest challenges facing Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought them to power. Rights groups say security forces used live ammunition and birdshot at protesters, as well as beating and arresting them, with much of the violence captured on video.

At least 442 protesters have been killed and more than 18,000 have been detained since the beginning of the unrest, according to Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been involved in large-scale protests.

The UN Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to condemn the crackdown and create an independent mission to investigate alleged abuses, particularly those committed against women and children.

The authors have blamed the unrest on hostile foreign powers without evidence, and say separatists and other armed groups have attacked security forces. Rights activists in Iran say at least 57 security personnel have been killed since state media reported a higher toll.

The protesters say they are fed up after a decade of social and political repression, including the dress code imposed on women. Virgins play a leading role in dissuading, removing the Islamic mandatory heads to express their rejection of clerical rule.

Some Iranians are actively rooting against the World Cup team, associating it with leaders they see as violent and corrupt. Others insist that the national team, which the players, who have spoken on social media in solidarity with the dissidents, represents the people of the country.

The team’s star development, Sardar Azmoun, who has been vocal about online protests, was on the bench for the opening match. Apart from Ghafouri, two other former soccer stars were arrested for expressing their protests.

Other Iranian athletes were also drawn into the competition.

Iranian rock star Elnaz Rekabi competed without the mandatory headscarves at an international competition in South Korea in October, a move widely seen as an expression of support for the protests. A hero’s welcome from the protesters in Iran to return, as reported by the state media, the movement was “imprudent” in the interview, which would have been forced.

Earlier this month, Iran’s football federation threatened to punish players on its beach soccer team after it defeated Brazil in an international competition in Dubai. One of the players had celebrated after scoring a goal by imitating a female striker with her hair cut off.

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