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The U.S.-Iran World Cup game puts a spotlight on Iran’s protest movement : NPR


A woman during a protest in Qatar holds up a sign reading Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody, sparking a nationwide protest movement.

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A woman during a protest in Qatar holds up a sign reading Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Iranian woman who died in police custody, sparking a nationwide protest movement.

Francisco Seco/AP

Tuesday’s World Cup match between Iran and the US will be widely watched not only for its tournament significance. The game will also serve as a focal point in the large-scale human rights protest movement that swept across Iran this fall.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets since the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody in September, what has become perhaps the biggest challenge to the dictatorship ruling the country since. since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

And some Iranian fans hope for a win over the US on Tuesday could generate even more enthusiasm for the anti-government movement.

“I believe that every international event, especially on the scale of the World Cup, is an opportunity for spectators present in stadiums in Qatar and on the streets of Iran after the game to be seen and heard, ‘ said Touraj. an Iranian fan from the northern city of Rasht who refused to use his full name for fear of government sanctions.

Read on to know more about the protests in Iran and how the Iranian group handled questions about the human rights situation in their country.

What is the protest movement in Iran?

Protests erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman in September, who died in the custody of the country’s ethics police after they arrested her for behavior they deemed inappropriate dress. Fit. The Amini are Kurds, a marginalized minority group in Iran, and are known to friends and family as the Kurds, Jina.

Since September, hundreds of thousands of Iranians have joined the protests. And the protests have grown beyond calls for more freedom for women; now, many protesters are demanding regime change.

“I want a future. I want to be happy. I want a good life. I want a nice house, a good car, a good husband – I don’t know – maybe. I can’t. have been”. [a] a better future in this country under these circumstances,” a 19-year-old Iranian student told NPR this month. She requested anonymity out of fear for her safety.

“This is a very clear message from the Iranian people. This is why many Iranians like to call these protests a revolution, because for them the Islamic Republic has no credibility. ,” Asieh Amini, Iranian poet and activist living in exile in Iran. Norway said in an interview with NPR.

How did the Iranian government react?

Iranian leaders condemned the protests as riots, noting that police stations had been burned and policemen were killed. They argue that the protesters are incited by the US, Israel or Kurdish groups in neighboring countries.

The government has also tried to end the protests by force.

At least 450 protesters have been killed since mid-September. According to an advocacy group that tracks the persecution called Human Rights Activists in Iran. That number includes dozens of children, the group said.

Amnesty International said it recorded the name and details of More than 300 people died. “Investigations into the identities of those killed continue, with the true death toll believed to be much higher,” the group said last week.

The Iranian regime has also turned to mass arrests to deter protesters. Thousands of people were arrested; human rights groups say authorities have targeted civil rights activists, lawyers and journalists. Activists have warned police will enter hospitals to arrest protesters seeking medical treatment for injuries sustained during the protests.

This month, the authorities began holding trial of the protesters. At least 20 people are said to be facing the death penalty.

“They were taken aback by the scale, defiance and depth of this protest movement,” said Nahid Siamdoust, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and media at the University of Texas at Austin. “I think it was one of – if not – the most defiant uprising against the Islamic Republic.”

What about the international community?

There has been widespread condemnation of the government’s treatment of protesters. In October, a group of human rights experts at the United Nations officially condemn the persecution.

And last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to open an independent investigation into Iran’s handling of the protests. United Nations officials have called on Iranian authorities to refrain from using violence, release detainees and end the use of the death penalty.

“You can imagine how painful it is for me to witness what is happening in Iran with what we can only describe as a very serious human rights crisis,” the head of human rights of the United Nations Volker Türk said.

The Biden administration has expressed support for the protesters and imposing new sanctions on Iranian security officials participate in the persecution. And where the White House had once hoped to revive the Iran nuclear deal, those talks has now stalled as the world focuses on the protests.

“What the United States wants is a government in Iran that respects the basic rights of the people – because they want to not be able to wear a headscarf or live their lives in normal ways, but they have to face an oppressive system,” said Robert Malley, the US special envoy to Iran, in an interview with NPR last month.

Iran’s national team players sang the national anthem in their second game of the tournament, turning the tide after they fell silent in their opening match against England.

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Iran’s national team players sang the national anthem in their second game of the tournament, turning the tide after they fell silent in their opening match against England.

Image of Matthias Hangst/Getty

Did Iran’s World Cup team say anything about the protests?

Several players have spoken out.

Before the first match, captain Ehsan Hajsafi Condolences to the families of the protesters who died and alluded to 9 year old boy’s death whose family says he was killed by state security forces earlier this month. And the Swedish-born midfielder Saman Ghoddos spoke out about the protests in a pre-tournament interview with The Athletic. “What people want is nothing special – it’s just freedom,” he said.

Perhaps most striking was in the team’s opening game against England, All Iranian players refuse to sing the national anthem in what many saw as a show of solidarity with the protesters.

But in recent days, Iranian players seem to have stepped back and repeated the view that their focus is on football and not politics.

During a press conference last Thursday, Iran striker Medhi Taremi seemed to downplay the importance of their choice not to sing the national anthem. “Unfortunately, there are some of our fans who understand things the way they want to understand,” Taremi said. (The team sang the national anthem during their second game, disappointing some Iranian fans in the crowd.)

Taremi also seemed to endorse the Iranian state media’s explanation of the team’s 6-2 loss to England – that questions about the anti-government protests had distracted them from the game.

How do the Iranians feel about their team?

Siamdoust, a University of Texas professor, said Iranians often unite behind their national team.

But this year, protests have divided support for the team back home — some say the players haven’t done enough to support the protests.

Some protesters called for a boycott after the players met with Iran’s right-wing president Ebrahim Raisi before leaving for the World Cup. State media have portrayed the players as staunch supporters of the regime.

Iranian athletes who speak out against the regime have long faced the threat of sanctions when they return home. Just this month, Iranian authorities arrest a former member of the national football team who have long been outspoken critics of the government. Dozens of Iranian athletes in different sports defected from Iran over the years.

“They are risking what they have worked for all their lives just by not singing the national anthem,” Siamdout said.

Other Iranian athletes appear to have only issued statements to later apologise. Human rights advocates have raised concerns about the athletes’ safety and questioned whether their apology was coerced.

Last month, Iranian mountaineer Elnaz Rekabi apologized in state media after she appeared in a competition in South Korea without a hijab, which the regime requires of her. female athletes. This month, an Iranian archer named Parmida Ghasemi apparently let her hijab come off during a ceremony in Tehran; she later apologized and said it was an accident.

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