Iran arrests ex-international footballer who backed protests

PARIS: Iran on Thursday (Nov 24) arrested a former international football player of Kurdish origin who has strongly supported the protests that have rocked the country since September, news agencies said.

Voria Ghafouri, an outspoken figure who appeared 28 times for Iran up until 2019, was arrested after a club training session over accusations that he spread “propaganda” against the Islamic republic, the Fars news agency reported.

He is one of the most prominent figures arrested in a widescale crackdown on protests, amid intense scrutiny on the conduct of the national team at the World Cup in Qatar.

The team refrained from singing the national anthem at their first match against England on Monday.

But concern is also growing over the extent of the authorities’ crackdown in the western Kurdish areas of Iran from which Ghafouri hails, with rights groups saying dozens have been killed over the last week alone.

Ghafouri was detained after a training session with his club Foolad Khuzestan on charges of having “tarnished the reputation of the national team and spread propaganda against the state”, the Fars new agency said.

Kurdish-focused rights group Hengaw, based in Norway, also said he had been arrested, posting a picture of the player in traditional Kurdish dress.

Former Iranian international footballer Ali Karimi, another outspoken supporter of the protests, also posted the same photo of Ghafouri on his Twitter account in support of the player.

“For the honourable Voria,” he wrote.