An assistant coach with Iran’s national soccer team has been fired amid a campaign by hard-liners to oust him over social media posts he made criticizing the government’s response to protests sparked by the death of a young woman while in police custody.
Rahman Rezaei, a former star player on the Iranian men’s national soccer team, had come increasingly under fire after being named last week as an assistant coach for his comments online about the regime’s crackdown on demonstrators, including one last October where he said, “Enough is enough. You should be tried in the nation’s courts.”
On March 20, an official of the Sports Ministry wrote on Twitter: “Do you think that someone who insults the Islamic republic so brazenly can be trusted to serve honestly under the holy flag?”
Soon after, the semiofficial Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, announced Rezaei’s dismissal.
FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, has repeatedly warned the Iranian Football Federation over government interference in national team affairs. There was no immediate comment by FIFA.
Since the start of nationwide protests following the death of Mahsa Amini in September while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly, numerous Iranian celebrities and sports personalities have been interrogated and had their passports confiscated after voicing support for the protests.
The unrest has put women’s rights in Iran and the lack of freedoms in general in Iran in the spotlight.
Authorities have responded to the unrest with a wave of brutal and often deadly repression.
Another Iranian professional soccer player, Amir Nasr-Azadani, has been sentenced to 16 years in prison for “assisting in waging war against God.” Nasr-Azadani had faced a potential death sentence.
Ali Karimi, a former soccer player with Bayern Munich and once the captain of Iran’s national soccer team, has also been a target of the government for his support of the protesters and his posts on social media, including on Instagram, where he has nearly 15 million followers.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described efforts by celebrities to support the protesters as “worthless” and has called for judicial action against them.
Since Amini’s death, more than 500 people have been killed in the police crackdown, according to rights groups. Thousands more have been arrested, including many protesters, as well as journalists, lawyers, activists, digital rights defenders, and others.
Source » rferl