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Iranian Soccer Player Arrested Amid World Cup Scrutiny

Voria Ghafouri, then an Iranian national soccer team player, right, fights for the ball with Iraqi midfielder Hussein Ali, during the AFC Asian Cup soccer match at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 16, 2019. AP
Voria Ghafouri, then an Iranian national soccer team player, right, fights for the ball with Iraqi midfielder Hussein Ali, during the AFC Asian Cup soccer match at the Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Jan. 16, 2019. AP

Iran arrested a prominent former member of its national soccer team on Thursday over his criticism of the government as authorities grapple with nationwide protests that have cast a shadow over its competition at the World Cup.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported that Voria Ghafouri was arrested for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government.”

Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career. He objected to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.

More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police ignited the latest protests. In recent days he also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdistan region.

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