Voria Ghafouri challenges for a ball with Chile's Alexis Alejandro Sanchez.

Iran arrests top football player Voria Ghafouri for criticizing government

Iran has arrested a prominent former member of its national football team for criticizing the government as authorities grapple with nationwide protests.

The semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for «insulting the national football team and making propaganda against the government».

Ghafouri, who was not selected to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken criticism of Iranian officials throughout his career.

He has objected to a long-standing ban on female spectators at men’s football matches and Iran’s confrontational foreign policy that has paralyzed Western sanctions.

More recently, Ghafouri expressed his sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death in the custody of the Iranian morality police had sparked recent protests.

He also called for an end to the violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s Western Kurdistan region in recent days.

The news of his arrest came ahead of the World Cup match between Iran and Wales on Friday.

Voria Ghafouri (right) objects to the long-standing ban on female spectators at men’s football matches.(AP Photo: Kamran Jebreili/File)

In Iran’s opening match – a 6-2 defeat to England – members of the Iranian national team refused to sing their national anthem, and some fans expressed support for the protests.

Protests flared up with the death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the morality police in the capital Tehran, on September 16.

They quickly turned into nationwide demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic.

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