Iran protest supporters harassed by pro-government fans at World Cup

Flags confiscated and insults hurled ahead of Wales match

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Division over Iran’s protests cast a shadow over the national team's second match at the World Cup on Friday, with pro-government fans clashing with supporters of the country's continuing popular demonstrations.

Fans in the crowd were visibly emotional as Iran's team sang the national anthem, with many bursting into tears. The team was praised by many after refusing to sing the anthem in their earlier match against England on Monday.

Many in the stands came with pre-revolutionary flags and clothing emblazoned with the “Women, Life, Freedom” slogan that has been a central feature of the two-month protests against Iran's regime.

Authorities, however, have confiscated pro-protest flags, the UK-based Iran International TV channel reported. Supporters of the Iranian government also took pre-revolutionary Iranian flags from fans the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and shouted insults at those wearing “Women, Life, Freedom” shirts, according to AP.

Images taken by media outlets at the match showed fans being forced to hand over T-shirts to stadium authorities.

Other pro-government fans heckled protest supporters giving interviews to international media.

Ahead of Friday's match, shouting matches erupted outside the security checkpoint at the venue between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic.”

Many female fans were visibly shaken as Iranian government supporters surrounded them with national flags and filmed them on their phones.

One 35-year-old woman named Maryam started to cry as shouting men blowing horns surrounded her and filmed her face up close, AP reported. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.

Iran supporters attend the match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, on November 25. AFP

Another woman named Vanya, 21, who lives in Qatar, said she was terrified to ever go back to Iran after what she experienced outside the stadium on Friday. “I’m genuinely afraid for my safety,” she said.

At least 300 people have been killed, including 40 children, since anti-government protests erupted in mid-September, sparked the death of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's morality police.

More than 4,000 are said to have been arrested, and several sentenced to death for participating in the demonstrations.

Former football player Voria Ghafori was arrested on Thursday for allegedly criticising the government.

A group of fans wearing hats emblazoned with his name told AP they had their hats stolen by government supporters.

“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicised this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan. “I think the arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”

Some fans said stadium security removed items with messages in support of the protest movement.

Ayeh Shams from the US, who was at the game with her brother, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” on it.

“We’re first generation American. Our parents were born in Iran. We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Ms Shams said.

Some anti-government fans waved signs in support of the protest movement at Iran’s first match against England earlier this week. Before that match, Iran’s players remained silent as their national anthem played. On Friday, they sang along.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: November 25, 2022, 12:48 PM