DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Smiling U.S. and Iranian fans mingled and posed for photos outside a stadium in Doha ahead of a politically charged World Cup match on Tuesday.
The atmosphere was generally festive though the political divisions among Iran fans were apparent outside Al Thumama Stadium, as they have been during previous Iran games during the tournament as pro-government fans confronted those expressing support for the anti-government protests across Iran.
Two London-based Iranians, wearing T-shirts with the slogan of protests, were repeatedly harassed while talking to an Associated Press journalist on Tuesday. One of them, who identified herself as Maryam and didn’t give her last name for fear of government reprisals, received a grazing slap to the face by an Iranian man following her. Security guards got between them, but did not detain the man who slapped her.
Other men blew vuvuzelas at the two or filmed them. One man shouted at them in Farsi “why don’t you think Iran is good?”
Maryam said her friends were similarly harassed at Iran-Wales match on Friday.
“They can’t stop us. People are getting killed and I’m not going to get stopped by some random guy. I’m not afraid of them,” she added.
Dalia, an 18-year-old Iranian from the southern city of Ahvaz who attended the game with her parents, said Tuesday’s match had exposed divisions within her family between those still committed to supporting Iran’s national team and others who reject the players as tools of the government.
The Iranian players have been repeatedly asked during the World Cup about the protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in the custody of Iran’s morality police. The players have declined to comment or made vague statements.
“It’s so sad for me because I want to support them so badly but I just can’t,” Dalia said, also declining to give her last name.
“They are killing children. They are killing us,” she said of the crackdown on protesters, as her parents pulled her away from reporters.
Elsewhere, U.S. and Iranian fans appeared unfazed by the the politics surrounding the match, posing together for photos. The two teams have played in a World Cup once before, in 1998 in France, when Iran beat the U.S. 2-1.
The latest protests mark one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s ruling clerics since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power. Rights groups say security forces have unleashed live ammunition and bird shot on the protesters, as well as beating and arresting them, with much of the violence captured on video.
At least 452 protesters have been killed and more than 18,000 detained since the start of the unrest, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the protests.
Two former members of the national soccer team arrested this month in connection with the protests have been released on bail.
Parviz Boroumand, a retired goalkeeper, was arrested nearly two weeks ago on charges of participating in protests in the capital, Tehran, and was accused of damaging property. Voria Ghafouri was arrested last week for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government,” according to state-linked media.
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