In what appears to be a warning to the Iranian team at the World Cup, Voria Ghafouri, a prominent former member of Iran’s national soccer team, has been arrested over his criticism of the authoritarian government.
Ghafouri, who is of Kurdish decent, has long been outspoken about the Iranian government including criticism on the ban of women spectators at soccer matches.
The arrest comes days after the Iranian national team’s protest during their national anthem.
He has allegedly been charged with “incitement against the regime,” accused of insulting the national team and propaganda against the regime.
Voria has long been on the brutal regime’s radar for his outspokenness and has been threatened directly by Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.
The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government.”
Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career. He objected to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.
More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police ignited the latest protests. In recent days he also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdistan region.
The reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. At Iran’s opening match, a 6-2 loss to England, the members of the Iranian national team declined to sing along to their national anthem and some fans expressed support for the protests.