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One Iranian footballer sacked, another suspended, for supporting protesters

Voria Ghafouri, top, and Reza Shekari, bottom, photos via Facebook and Radio Free Europe.

Iran’s Islamic Republic regime continues to harass footballers who dare to show solidarity with protesters screaming for freedom.

One Iranian footballer has been sacked, and another suspended, for supporting protesters.

The footballer who was sacked is 35 year old Voria Ghafouri, the now former captain of the Persian Gulf Pro League club Foolad. IranWire reported yesterday that Ghafouri was sacked after criticising the regime’s “bloody response” to the country’s ongoing protests.

The head coach of Foolad FC in the southern city of Ahvaz announced that Ghafouri had no place in the team, Iranian media reported.

Iranian authorities have been harassing Ghafouri since November. That month, authorities arrested Ghafouri, jailing him for about a week before he was released on bail.

Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandising against the government,” Iranian media reported. This was after he called for an end to the violent suppression of protests in Kurdish areas. Ghafouri himself is a member of Iran’s oppressed Kurdish ethnic minority.

The footballer suspended recently is 24 year old Reza Shekari, a member of the Gol Gohar club. It was reported yesterday that the Iranian Football Federation’s disciplinary committee summoned Shekari after he refused to celebrate scoring a goal.

Shekari told reporters that he didn’t celebrate his goal “due to the conditions of the country and the mourning of the people.”

After the disciplinary committee summoned him, Shekari was banned from participating in the country’s Premier League. Radio Free Europe reported that it was not immediately clear how long Shekari has been banned.

Shekari also emphasised that he and his teammates are “forced to play football” these days.

Iranian athletes, particularly footballers, are playing a key role in voicing support for protesters in their country. The regime is responding to these statements and gestures of solidarity with chilling repercussions.

Earlier this month, the regime sentenced a young footballer to 16 years of imprisonment for “enmity against God,” several news outlets reported yesterday. The footballer, 26 year old Amir Nasr-Azadani, participated in protests last year.

In November, Iran’s football team declined to sing the country’s national anthem at the FIFA World Cup in a display of solidarity with their fellow countrymen.

Iranian authorities then threatened the families of its national football players with imprisonment and torture, according to a source involved in the security of the games.

Meanwhile, at least 516 Iranian protesters had been killed as of January 3, according to the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency. There are also regular headlines about people being formally executed.

Despite the Islamic Republic’s brutal violence, the country’s protesters and athletes still refuse to cower before it.

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Tara Abhasakun

A Thai-American dual citizen, Tara has reported news and spoken on a number of human rights and cultural news issues in Thailand. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in history from The College of Wooster. She interned at Southeast Asia Globe, and has written for a number of outlets. Tara reports on a range of Thailand news issues.