Footballer arrested as UN human rights body votes to investigate Iran crackdown

Key points
  • A former member of the Iranian national football team was arrested after training.
  • The demonstrations were sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.
  • The reaction of the Iranian authorities to the protests is becoming increasingly harsh.
The outspoken Kurdish-Iranian footballer was arrested on Thursday, the same day that the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) promised a high-level investigation into Iran’s brutal crackdown.
Nationwide protests were sparked by the death in custody in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
The demonstrations escalated into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since 1979.
According to the official news agency IRNA, former member of the Iranian national football team Voriya Ghafuri was arrested for “insulting the national team” and “propaganda against the system.”

No further details about the allegations against Gafuri have been released.

Ghafuri, who played 28 games for Iran, was arrested after training with the football club Foolad Khuzestan.
When Iran lined up for its first 2022 FIFA World Cup match on Monday, the players chose not to sing the national anthem at the start of the match; instead remained silent in what seemed to be a nod of support for the protesters at home.
Captain Ehsan Haysafi also publicly addressed the issue, stating that “we must admit that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are unhappy.”

Despite strong lobbying from Tehran and last-minute attempts by China to undermine the UNHRC resolution, a larger-than-expected majority on the 47-member council supported launching an investigation into Iran’s response to the ongoing protests.

Thunderous applause erupted when the resolution passed with 25 votes in favor, 16 abstentions, and only six countries – Armenia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Pakistan and Venezuela – opposed.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken welcomed the vote, saying it showed that the UN’s highest human rights body “recognizes the seriousness of the situation in Iran.”
“The fact-finding mission launched today will help ensure that those involved in the ongoing violent suppression of the Iranian people are identified and documented,” the statement said.

The vote came at the end of an emergency session requested by Germany and Iceland, backed by 50 countries, to discuss the situation in Iran, shaken by two months of protests.

The Iranian authorities are responding increasingly harshly to the demonstrations as they have spread across the country and grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since 1979.
During Thursday’s meeting, UN human rights chief Volker Türk insisted that “the necessary and disproportionate use of force must end.”

Mr Turk, who told reporters that he offered to visit Iran but received no response from Tehran, said more than 300 people had been killed since Ms Amini’s death.

Women's Liberty Life Fresco - Edinburgh

Iranians around the world have raised awareness of the ongoing uprising in their home country. Source: AARP / P.A.

Norway-based group Iranian Human Rights estimated the death toll at over 400, including more than 50 children.

About 14,000 people, including children, were arrested in connection with the protests, he said, calling it a “staggering number” and denounced the fact that at least six death sentences had been handed down on demonstrators.

A long line of Western diplomats spoke Thursday in Geneva to denounce the repression in Iran.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock called on all countries to support an independent international fact-finding mission to investigate all abuses related to the ongoing protests to ensure that “those responsible can be held accountable.”
“Impunity impedes justice. Justice for sisters, sons, mothers. They have names. Jina, Abolfazl, Minu,” she said, listing some of the many who had been killed.
She told reporters that the investigation will collect evidence to bring the perpetrators to justice, although it remains unclear under what jurisdiction they will be tried.

“If we don’t gather evidence today… justice will never come to the victims,” ​​Ms Burbock said.

Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun Reikfjord Gylfadottir agreed, telling reporters that the vote in the council was dedicated to “respecting, protecting and exercising human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Dozens of people protested in front of the UN building in Geneva, waving flags used in Iran before the 1979 revolution, against the backdrop of photographs of alleged victims of the Iranian regime.
The organizers of the demonstration, the People’s Organization of the Mujahideen of Iran, hailed Thursday’s vote as a “positive and important step”, insisting that “the culture of impunity must end.”
Human rights groups also noted the vote, with Amnesty International calling it “historic” and Human Rights Watch calling it “a welcome step towards accountability.”

Iran, however, denounced Western countries for Thursday’s meeting. Europe and the United States “lack the moral authority to preach … about human rights,” said Khadija Karimi, Iran’s deputy vice president for women and family affairs.


Deputy Vice President for Women and Family Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Khadije Karimi spoke at the UN European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Source: AARP / EPA

“The reduction of the common cause of human rights protection to an instrument of political goals of specific groups of Western countries is terrible and shameful,” she added.

Iran has received support from some countries: Pakistan, Venezuela and others condemned the growing politicization in the council, and Chinese Ambassador Chen Xu warned against “turning human rights into a tool to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

China also made a last-minute bid to change the text of Thursday’s resolution, asking for the request for an investigation to be removed. Only six countries supported this effort.