A strong earthquake rocked the northwestern Iranian city of Khoy on January 28, killing at least three people, injuring more than 1,000 and forcing hundreds to seek shelter from freezing winter conditions.

Images published by Iranian media show residents of Khoy, with a population of around 200,000, wrapped in blankets and huddling around fires.

A total of 70 villages in West Azerbaijan province were also affected, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported, while the official IRNA news agency said over 3,000 houses were damaged.

Instead of sending badly needed relief such as tents and food, the authorities quickly deployed riot police to the region to clamp down on a population angry over the government’s response to the quake.

Videos shared on social media show a water cannon being used to disperse people who had gathered in front of the regional administration building in Khoy.

After previous natural disasters, Iranian sports celebrities launched campaigns to raise money for the victims and traveled to the affected areas to distribute aid.

None of that happened this time because footballers and other athletes in Iran have been under intense pressure from the authorities for voicing support for anti-governments protests that have swept the country for more than four months.

Some of these celebrities have been summoned to intelligence offices to answer questions regarding their social media posts, others have been banned from leaving Iran.

Ex-wrestling champion Khadem

Rasoul Khadem, a former wrestling champion and coach of the national team, launched the Khadmen Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib charity in 2010.

Khadem has never issued direct calls for public donations and never appeared in front of TV cameras to ask for financial contributions following devastating earthquakes or floods.

Thanks to his discrete efforts, relief was provided to the victims, medicine was distributed to children and houses were built for the homeless.

For many years, Khadem’s relatives have reported that the authorities were threatening to block his bank accounts and shut down his charity, while state media accused the ex-wrestling champion of having connections with “hostile media.”

Khadem was banned from leaving the country after defending celebrities’ support for the ongoing protests and criticizing a minister on his Instagram page.

Daei, the “monarch” of Iranian football

National hero Ali Daei, known as the “monarch” of Iranian football, has also been targeted by the Islamic Republic.

The former striker’s 109 goals at international level were long unsurpassed until Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him in 2021.

In 2017, he opened his personal bank account to public contributions aimed at helping the victims of Kurdistan’s devastating earthquake. He started buying and gathering goods for the victims and posted pictures on Instagram of himself distributing them.

But the ex-footballer was accused in 2018 of pocketing more than $7 million of people’s money, a charge that nobody believed. The next year, Daei was summoned to the National Police’s Special Operation Center.

After joining a three-day nationwide strike in December 2022, the authorities closed Daei’s jewelry store and restaurant in Tehran, and hard-liners in the Islamic Republic called for severe judicial actions against the former footballer.

The Iranian football legend has also called on the government to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests.”

Karimi, ex-captain of the national football team

Ali Karimi, who captained Iran’s national team as well as Persepolis and IsteelAzeen clubs, is a very popular footballer among ordinary Iranians because of his moral position and prowess on the pitch.

Karimi scored 127 goals in a glittering 18-year career that saw him winning the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. He was awarded the Asian Footballer of the Year title in 2004.

He has denounced widespread corruption within the Iranian Football Federation.

In October 2020, Iranian media reported about the construction of a school thanks to efforts by “a group of wrestlers” and Karimi’s money.

It was also reported that the football champion was building a school for 60 pupils in the impoverished southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchistan.

However, Karimi was forced to flee the country after he expressed support for the protesters on social media, and all his properties and assets in Iran were confiscated by the order of the judiciary.

Source » iranwire