Iran releases detained soccer players before confronting the United States of America



Iranian authorities said on Tuesday that two former members of the national football team who were arrested this month in connection with nationwide protests have been released on bail.

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This announcement came hours before Iran was ready to play the role of the United States in the conflict Globalism Cup in a match heavily promoted by the authorities as they grapple with nationwide protests, now in their third month.

Parviz Borumand, a retired goalkeeper, was arrested about two weeks ago on charges of participating in protests in the capital, Tehran, and was accused of damaging property. Furia Ghafouri was arrested last week for “insulting the national soccer team and propaganda against the government,” according to state-linked media.

The judiciary announced their release on Tuesday, without going into details.

Ghafouri, who still plays for a local club but was not selected to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of the Iranian authorities throughout his career. He has objected to a long-standing ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to heavy 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 sparked recent protests. He also called for an end to the violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdistan region.

Iranian officials have not stated whether Ghafouri’s activism was a factor in his failure to be selected for the national team.

The recent protests represent one of the biggest challenges facing Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought them to power. Rights groups say security forces fired live ammunition and birdshot at protesters, as well as beating and arresting them, with much of the violence captured on video.

At least 452 protesters have been killed and more than 18,000 arrested since the unrest began, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the protests.

The authorities blamed the unrest on hostile foreign powers without providing evidence. The judiciary says it has released more than 1,000 detainees in recent days.

The protesters say they are tired of decades of social and political oppression, including strict dress codes imposed on women. Young women have played a leading role in the protests, removing the mandatory Islamic headscarf to express their disapproval of clerical rule.

Some Iranians are rooting against their World Cup team, associating it with referees they see as violent and corrupt. Others insist that the national team, which includes players who have spoken out on social media in solidarity with the protests, represents the people of the country. Billboards promoting the team were spread across the capital, Tehran.

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