Iranian security forces have arrested popular football player Voria Ghafouri on charges of having “tarnished the reputation of the national team” and spreading “propaganda” against Iran.
Ghafouri, who is of Kurdish origins and has strongly supported the protests that have rocked the country since September, was arrested after a club training session on Thursday, the Fars news agency reported.
Ghafouri has represented Iran’s national football team in the past, but was not called up for this year’s World Cup in Qatar, where the national team refrained from singing the national anthem at their first match against England on Monday.
Ghafouri, who has played for Esteghlal, one of Iran’s biggest clubs, is among the most prominent figures arrested in a widescale crackdown on protesters, including in the western Kurdish areas from which he hails, with rights groups saying dozens have been killed over the last week alone.
Iran has seen more than two months of demonstrations, sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, herself of Kurdish origin, after she was arrested for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
On his social media accounts, Ghafouri had strongly backed the protests and reported visiting Kurdish-populated areas of western Iran to express solidarity with families of those killed during the protests.
Kurdish-focused rights group Hengaw, based in Norway, also said he had been arrested, sharing an Instagram picture that the player had posted of himself in traditional Kurdish dress.
Football player Voria Ghafouri, from Sanandaj and a former member of Iran's national team who now plays for Foolad F.C, was abducted by Iranian government authorities.
Thursday, November 24, 2022#JinaAmini pic.twitter.com/4atp80DBup
— Hengaw Organization for Human Rights (@Hengaw_English) November 24, 2022
Ghafouri won particular praise for visiting the young daughter of a woman who had been killed in the protests and giving her a tablet as a gift.
Former Iranian international footballer Ali Karimi, another outspoken supporter of the protests, also posted the same photo of Ghafouri in Kurdish dress on his Twitter account in support of the player.
“For the honourable Voria,” he wrote.
Ghafouri was formerly Esteghlal’s captain before his contract was terminated and he moved to Foolad Khuzestan.