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Iran arrests soccer player over government criticism

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — State-linked media in Iran are reporting that Voria Ghafouri, a former member of the country’s national soccer team, has been arrested for criticizing the government.

The semiofficial Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported on Thursday that he was arrested for insulting the national soccer team, which is currently playing in the World Cup, and criticizing the government.

Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities and policies throughout his career.

Iran has been convulsed by anti-government protests for more than two months, the biggest challenge to its Islamic theocracy in more than a decade.

The reports of his arrest came ahead of Friday’s World Cup match between Iran and Wales. At Iran’s opening match against England, the members of the Iranian national team declined to sing along to the national anthem and some fans protested during the match.

The protests were ignited by the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman in the custody of the country’s morality police in September. They quickly escalated into nationwide demonstrations calling for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic. The western Kurdish region of the country has seen particularly intense protests and a deadly crackdown by security forces.

Ghafouri, who is also a member of Iran’s Kurdish minority, has criticized government policies in the past. Officials have not said whether that was a factor in not choosing him for the national team.

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