Supporters of the Iranian government clash with protesters during the World Cup

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Tensions ran high in Iran’s second game at the world Cup Friday as supporters supporting the Iranian government harassed those protesting against it and stadium security seized flags, t-shirts and other items expressing support for the protest movement that has gripped the Islamic Republic .

Some fans were prevented by security guards from bringing Persian pre-revolutionary flags to the game against Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium. Others carrying such flags were snatched from their hands by pro-government Iranian supporters, who also shouted insults at supporters wearing T-shirts with the slogan of the protest movement gripping the country, “Woman, Life, Liberty”.

Unlike their first game against England, the Iranian players sang their national anthem before the game as some fans at the stadium cried, whistled and booed.

The national team has come under scrutiny for any statements or gestures regarding the nationwide protests that have plagued Iran for weeks.

Match shouting broke out in the queues outside the stadium between fans shouting “Women, life, freedom” and others shouting “The Islamic Republic!”

Crowds of men surrounded three different women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium, disrupting broadcasts as they angrily chanted “Islamic Republic of Iran!” Many female fans appeared shaken as supporters of the Iranian government shouted at them in Farsi and filmed them up close on their phones.

After Iran’s 2-0 triumph, crowds of Iranian fans wildly waving national flags left the stadium. They swarmed a group of demonstrators who held up pictures of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old whose September 16 death in the custody of vice squads first sparked the protests, shouting “Victory!” to drown out the chants of Amini’s name.

A 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iranian fans refused to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, burst into tears as men shouting and blowing horns slammed her surrounded and filmed her face. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.

“I’m not here to fight anyone, but people attack me and call me a terrorist,” said Maryam, who lives in London but is originally from Tehran. “All I’m here to say is football doesn’t matter if people get killed in the street.”

Maryam and her friends had worn hats emblazoned with the name of an outspoken former Iranian footballer Voria Ghafouri, who had criticized Iranian authorities and was arrested Thursday in Iran on charges of propaganda against the government. She said supporters of the Iranian government have taken the hat off their heads.

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, was a star member of Iran’s 2018 World Cup squad, but surprisingly he was not named in the squad this year in Qatar.

“Obviously the game had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country hating each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iranian fan who also declined to give his last name. “I think Voria’s arrest also affected Iranian society a lot.”

Furious protesters in Iran have expressed anger over social and political repression and the state-mandated headscarf, or hijab, for women. The protests quickly turned into calls for the downfall of the Islamic Republic itself. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests began, according to the monitoring group Human Rights Activists in Iran.

The turmoil overshadowed the start of Iran’s World Cup campaign, including the opening match against England In Monday. The Iranian players remained silent as their national anthem played before the match and did not celebrate their two goals in the 6-2 loss. On Friday they sang the anthem and celebrated wildly as they scored twice against Wales.

Ayeh Shams, an Iranian from the United States, said security agents confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” written on it.

“We are just here to enjoy the games and give a platform to the people of Iran who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.

Stadium security officer Zeinlabda Arwa confirmed that authorities had been ordered to confiscate everything except the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“Whether you’re talking about Iran, Qatar or any country, you’re only allowed to bring the normal flag,” she said.

An angry group of Iranian government supporters yelled at Elyas Doerr, a 16-year-old Iranian boy living in Arizona who wore the Persian flag as a cape, until he took it off and put it in his bag.

“They don’t like it being a political statement,” he said, adding that other Iranian fans had approached him to say they appreciated the gesture.

A 32-year-old Iranian woman living in southern Spain, who declined to give her name for fear of reprisals, rushed after the game to collect her hat and flag which had been confiscated by stadium security. She said Qatari police ordered her to erase the names of Iranian protesters killed and arrested by security forces that she had written on her arms and chest, at the request of Iranian government supporters. At the game, only traces of ink remained on his skin which had been rubbed raw.

“Today’s football experience was the most intimidating I have ever had, before and after the game,” she said. She described dozens of men surrounding her and trying to smother her face with their Iranian flags, ripping signs off her as Qatari security stood by her side.

“I don’t care about the win, to be honest. It’s not my priority. »

After the match, Iranian state television broadcast patriotic songs and showed images of people bursting into joy across the country. Although many Iranians celebrated the victory, protests continued across the country. Videos circulating on social media appeared to show protests and gunfire in the eastern town of Zahedan. The Associated Press was unable to confirm reports that protesters were injured there.


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