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Iran releases jailed soccer player ahead of match against US

Illustrative: Voria Ghafouri (R) during the AFC Champions League group C match between Saudi's Al-Ahli and Iran's Esteghlal on April 27, 2021 at the King Abdullah sport city stadium in the Saudi city of Jeddah. (Photo by AFP)
Illustrative: Voria Ghafouri (R) during the AFC Champions League group C match between Saudi's Al-Ahli and Iran's Esteghlal on April 27, 2021 at the King Abdullah sport city stadium in the Saudi city of Jeddah. (Photo by AFP)

Iranian authorities say that a former member of the national soccer team arrested last week over his criticism of the government has been released on bail.

The announcement came hours before Iran was set to play the US at the World Cup in a match that authorities are heavily promoting as they grapple with nationwide protests that are well into their third month.

Voria Ghafouri was arrested last week for “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government,” according to state-linked media. The judiciary announces his release today without elaborating.

Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career. He objected to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.

More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police ignited the latest protests. He also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdistan region.

Iranian officials have not said whether Ghafouri’s activism was a factor in not choosing him for the national team.

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