Iranian soccer player Voria Ghafouri was arrested during World Cup investigations

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A prominent Iranian soccer player was arrested on Thursday on charges that included defaming the country’s World Cup-participating national team, state-run Iranian media reported Thursday.

The player, Voria Ghafouri, is a former member of Iran’s national squad and a frequent critic of the government. His arrest comes at a time when Iranian soccer players are under scrutiny for their statements about a nationwide uprising in Iran that has lasted for several months.

Iran’s World Cup team silently nods to protests at home

Iran’s national team, during a match against England on Monday, refused to sing during the playing of the country’s national anthem, in what was widely seen as a silent acknowledgment of the protests. Iran’s national television station showed selected images of spectators cheering for Iran during the match, but not the political signs carried by some.

Protests in Iran began in September after a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody. The revolt against Iran’s clerical leadership has spread across the country and sparked a fierce and deadly crackdown, including in ethnic Kurdish areas where rights groups say dozens of people have been killed in recent days.

The UN Human Rights Council in a vote on Thursday launched an investigation into alleged rights abuses in Iran’s response to the protest movement. “Today’s session leaves no doubt that the HRC’s membership recognizes the seriousness of the situation in Iran, and the fact-finding mission established today will help ensure that those involved in the ongoing violent repression of the Iranian people are being identified and their actions documented,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Rights groups say Iran is escalating repression in Kurdish areas

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, has previously criticized government officials on social media and recently posted messages on Twitter condemning the killing of Kurds. Iranian news reports did not specify the reasons for his arrest, but said the charges included “spreading propaganda against” the Islamic Republic.

He has been called up to play several times over the past decade for the national team and has played for several Iranian club teams, including Foolad Khuzestan, his current squad. ISNA, a semi-official news agency, reported on Thursday that Hamidreza Garshasbi, chief executive of the team, had resigned, saying the reason for his resignation had not yet been announced.

Even before the start of the World Cup, some Iranians had called on FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, to ban the national team, known as Team Melli, as a sign of support for the protests. Others argued that Iran’s participation in the World Cup was a boon for the uprising: a high-profile event that gave players and spectators an opportunity to voice dissent with the international media.

Iran will play Wales on Friday.

World Cup in Qatar

Live Updates: The final eight teams making their debut in Qatar take to the field on Thursday in Group G and Group H matches. Stay tuned for the latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: In their return to the World Cup, the young Americans settled for a 1-1 draw with Wales in their Group B opener. The US men’s national team faces a bigger task on Friday against Group B favorite England, who destroyed Iran 6-2 earlier on Monday.

Qatar Controversy: Soccer fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, have said they were denied entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted by members of the public for removing the emblem.

Group guide: The US men’s national soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and forward Christian Pulisic, qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement from its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a closer look at how all the teams in each group are doing.

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