Footballer arrested as UN legal body votes to probe Iran’s crackdown on protests

Important points
  • A former member of the Iran national football team was arrested after training.
  • The demonstrations were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in prison.
  • The Iranian authorities are reacting increasingly obstinately to the protests.
An outspoken Kurdish-Iranian soccer player was arrested on Thursday, the same day the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) pledged to conduct a high-level probe into the deadly crackdown on demonstrations in Iran.
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 have grown into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since 1979.
According to the official IRNA news agency, Voria Ghafouri, a former member of the Iran national football team, was arrested for “insulting the national team” and “propaganda against the system”.

Further details on the allegations against Ghafouri were not released.

Ghafouri, who played 28 times for Iran, was arrested after a training session with Foolad Khuzestan Football Club.
When Iran started their first game of the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Monday, the players decided not to sing the national anthem at the start of the game; Instead, he remained silent in what appeared to be a supportive nod to the protesters at home.
Captain Ehsan Hajsafi also addressed the issue publicly, saying: “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy.”

Despite heavy lobbying from Tehran and a last-minute attempt by China to undermine the UNHRC resolution, a larger-than-expected majority supported launching an inquiry into Iran’s response to the ongoing protests.

Thunderous applause erupted when the resolution was adopted by 25 votes in favour, 16 abstentions and only six countries – Armenia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Pakistan and Venezuela.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the vote, saying it shows the UN’s top judicial body “recognises the seriousness of the situation in Iran.”
“The fact-finding mission established today will help identify those involved in the ongoing violent repression of the Iranian people and document their actions,” he said in a statement.

The vote came at the end of an emergency meeting requested by Germany and Iceland, with the support of 50 countries, to discuss the situation in Iran, which has been rocked by two months of protests.

The Iranian authorities have responded with an increasingly harsh response to the demonstrations, which have spread across the country and swelled into a broad movement against the theocracy that has ruled Iran since 1979.
During Thursday’s session, UN chief justice Volker Turk called for “an end to the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force”.

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

Mural of Freedom of Women's Life - Edinburgh

Iranians around the world have drawn attention to the ongoing insurgency in their homeland. Source: AAP / ON

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights has estimated the number of victims at over 400, including more than 50 children.

Around 14,000 people, including children, have been arrested over the protests, he said, describing it as “a shocking number” and bemoaning the fact that at least six death sentences have been imposed on protesters.

A long line of Western diplomats took the floor in Geneva on Thursday to denounce the actions in Iran.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on all countries to support the independent international fact-finding mission to investigate any abuses related to the ongoing protests and ensure “those responsible can be held accountable”.
“Impunity prevents justice. Justice for sisters, sons, mothers. They have names. Jina, Abolfazl, Minoo,” she said, listing some of the many killed.
She told reporters the investigation would gather evidence to hold the perpetrators accountable – although it remains unclear under which jurisdiction they would be tried.

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

Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir agreed, telling reporters that the Council’s vote was “about the respect, protection and fulfillment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
Dozens of people protested outside the UN in Geneva, waving the flags used in Iran before the 1979 revolution amid images of alleged victims of the Iranian regime.
The organizers of that demonstration, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, hailed Thursday’s vote as “a positive and important step” and insisted that the “culture of impunity must end.”
Human rights groups also celebrated the vote, with Amnesty International calling it “historic,” while Human Rights Watch said it was “a welcome step toward accountability.”

Iran, however, denounced the Western countries behind Thursday’s meeting. Europe and the United States “lack the moral credibility to … preach about human rights,” said Khadijeh 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 Khadijeh Karimi spoke at the UN European Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Source: AAP / EPA

“Reducing the common cause of human rights to a tool for the political ends of certain groups of Western countries is appalling and shameful,” she added.

Iran received support from some countries, with Pakistan, Venezuela and others denouncing increasing politicization in the council, and China’s ambassador Chen Xu warned against “making human rights a tool to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs”.

China also tried at the last minute to change the text of Thursday’s resolution, demanding that the request to open an investigation be withdrawn. Only six countries supported this effort.

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