AL-RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Tensions escalated during Iran’s second World Cup match on Friday as supporters of the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security confiscated flags, t-shirts and other items of support protest movement. who took over the Islamic Republic.
Stadium security prevented some fans from bringing pre-revolutionary Persian flags to the match against Wales at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags were torn from their hands by pro-government Iranian fans, who also shouted insults at fans wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan of the protest movement that swept the country: “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
Unlike their first match against England, the Iranian players sang along to their national anthem before the match, with some fans in the stadium crying, whistling and booing.
The national team has come under scrutiny for any statements or gestures about the nationwide protests that have been raging in Iran for weeks.
Screaming matches broke out in lines outside the stadium between fans shouting “Women, life, freedom” and others shouting back “Islamic Republic!”
Small crowds of men surrounded three different women who were being interviewed by foreign media about the protests outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts while angrily chanting “Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans seemed shocked when supporters of the Iranian government yelled at them in Farsi and took close-ups of them on their phones.
One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who, like other Iranian fans, refused to give her last name for fear of government reprisal, began to cry as screaming men blowing horns surrounded her and filmed her face. The words “Women’s Freedom of Life” were written on her face.
“We want to raise awareness of his arrest and the women’s rights movement. Simple,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “I’m not here to fight anyone, but people attack me and call me a terrorist. All I want to say here is that football doesn’t matter if people get killed in the streets.”
Maryam and her friends wore hats bearing the name of the outspoken Iranian former football player Voria Ghafuri, who has been critical of Iranian authorities and was arrested in Iran on Thursday on charges of spreading propaganda against the government. She said supporters of the Iranian government took their hats off their heads.
Ghafuri, a Kurd, was Iran’s star player at the 2018 World Cup but was surprisingly not included in this year’s squad in Qatar.
“Obviously, this week the match has become very politicized. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think Voria’s arrest also had a big impact on society in Iran.”
Angry protesters in Iran are expressing their anger at social and political repression and the mandatory headscarf or hijab for women by the state. Demonstrations sparked by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was in the custody of the country’s morality police, quickly escalated into calls for the fall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have died since the beginning of the protests, according to the monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.
The riots overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign. The first match against England on Monday was the scene of protests, with anti-government fans waving placards and chanting in the stands. Before that match, in which Iran lost 6-2, its players were silent to the anthem of their country and did not celebrate their two goals. On Friday, they sang along to the anthem and cheered wildly when they scored a goal in a 2-0 win over Wales.
Aye Shams from the US, who was at the game against Wales with her brother, said the 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 only here to enjoy the games and provide a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.
Zeinlabda Arva, a stadium security guard, confirmed that the authorities had received orders to confiscate everything except the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Whether you are talking about Iran, Qatar, or any other country, you are only allowed to bring the regular flag,” she said.
An angry group of Iranian government supporters yelled at Elias Derr, a 16-year-old Iranian living in Arizona who wore 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 approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.
Before Friday’s match, Iranians chanted anti-government slogans from rooftops in Tehran. Scattered protests also erupted in Kurdish cities in the west of the country and in the central city of Isfahan on Thursday.
Iranian state television on Friday dedicated its mainstream newscast to the Iranians’ football prowess, wishing the national team good luck against Wales and showing a montage of Iranian goals throughout history.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.