Iran’s government supporters confront protesters during the World Cup

Iran’s government supporters confront protesters during the World Cup

Iran’s government supporters confront protesters during the World Cup

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) – Tensions ran high at Iran’s second World Cup match on Friday as fans supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security confiscated flags, T-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement which has gripped the Islamic Republic.

Some fans were stopped by stadium security from bringing in Persian pre-revolutionary flags for the match against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags had them ripped from their hands by pro-government Iran fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan of the protest movement that gripped the country, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to the national anthem before the match while some fans in the stadium wept, whistled and booed.

The national team has been under close scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have devastated Iran for weeks.

Shouting matches broke out in queues outside the stadium between fans chanting “Women, life, freedom” and others shouting back “Islamic Republic!”

Small crowds of men surrounded three different women who gave interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted: “Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as Iranian government supporters shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them at close range on their phones.

A 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals from the authorities, began to cry as shouting men blowing horns surrounded her and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.

“We want to raise awareness of his arrest and of the women’s rights movement. Easy, said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “I am not here to fight anyone, but people have attacked me and called me a terrorist. All I’m here to say is that football doesn’t matter if people are killed in the streets.”

Maryam and her friends had been wearing hats emblazoned with the name of outspoken Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on charges of spreading anti-government propaganda. She said Iranian government supporters had taken their hats off their heads.

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup squad but was surprisingly not named in this year’s squad in Qatar.

“Obviously the game had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country hating each other, said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”

Furious protesters in Iran have vented their anger over social and political oppression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The demonstrations, spurred by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16 in the custody of the country’s morality police, have quickly grown into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests broke out, according to the monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The unrest has overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign. The opening match against England on Monday was the scene of protests as anti-government fans waved signs and chanted in the stands. Before that game, which Iran lost 6-2, the players remained silent while their national anthem played and did not celebrate their two goals. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and celebrated wildly when they scored in the 2-0 win against Wales.

Ayeh Shams of the United States, who was at the match against Wales with her brother, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” on it.

“We are first generation Americans. Our parents were born in Iran. We are just here to enjoy the games and provide a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.

Zeinlabda Arwa, a security guard at the stadium, confirmed that authorities had been ordered to confiscate everything except the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Whether you’re talking about Iran or Qatar or any country, you’re only allowed to bring in the normal flag,” she said.

An angry group of Iranian government supporters shouted at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian resident of Arizona who was wearing the Persian flag as a cloak, until he took it off and put it in his bag. “They don’t like that it’s a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.

Before Friday’s match, Iranians chanted anti-government slogans from rooftops in Tehran. Scattered protests also broke out in Kurdish towns in the country’s west and across the central city of Isfahan on Thursday.

Iranian state television on Friday devoted its main news bulletin to the Iranians’ footballing prowess, wishing the national team luck against Wales and airing a montage of Iranian goals throughout history.


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