Iran’s top footballer Voria Ghafouri, supporter of anti-hijab protests, arrested amidst Qatar World Cup row

Iran’s top footballer Voria Ghafouri, who is one of the vocal supporters of anti-hijab protests, was arrested by the Tehran police for allegedly spreading propaganda against the Islamic regime.

Ghafouri, a former member of the national team who has appeared 28 times for Iran up until 2019, was arrested training session at 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.

His arrest comes against the backdrop of the Iran football team showing defiance against the regime in a recent World Cup match in Qatar.

The team did not sing the national anthem at their first match against England on Monday, inviting scrutiny from the officials.

According to reports, the 35-year-old footballer will most likely be charged with “insulting and intending to destroy the national football team and speaking against the regime”.

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One of the outspoken critics of the crackdown against the protesters, the footballer has been urging the government to stop killing Kurdish people.

“Stop killing Kurdish people!!! Kurds are Iran itself … Killing Kurds is equal to killing Iran. If you are indifferent to the killing of people, you are not an Iranian and you are not even a human being … All tribes are from Iran. Do not kill people!!!,” he recently tweeted.

The wave of protests that has rocked the country for more than a month was sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman.

Ghafouri has been on the radar of the regime for expressing support for the protesters, prompting the ministers to accuse him of being a Kurdish separatist.

But he has resolutely maintained that he was a proud nationalist and would give his life for Iran.

Earlier this year, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a veiled reference to Ghafouri, said, “Some people, who benefit from the country’s peace and security, enjoying their jobs and their favourite sports, bite the hand that feeds them.”

Ghafouri is from the Kurdish-populated city of Sanandaj in western Iran. He is regarded as a cult hero across the country.

He recently posted a photo on Instagram of himself in traditional Kurdish dress in the mountains of Kurdistan.

(With inputs from agencies)