Two prominent regime critics have been released on bail in Iran as the government tries to defuse a national protest movement that has rallied for radical reform, and in some cases regime change, since mid-September.
Voria Ghafouri, an Iranian-Kurd who played for Iran’s national team between 2015 and 2019, and Hossein Ronaghi, a prominent human rights activist, were both jailed for supporting protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after being beaten by police.
Kurdish-Iranian Amimi had been accused of violating the country’s strict dress code for women, sparking protests in the Kurdish region of Iran.
Demonstrators called for greater rights for women but the street protests soon became a movement against the country’s 40 years of theocratic rule, while calling for better living standards amid an ongoing economic crisis.
At least 400 people have been killed in the unrest, mostly protestors but also some security forces, including militiamen from the notorious Basij force, an internal security organisation, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the armed forces.
The bloody state crackdown has led to increasing international criticism. Earlier this month, Europe and the US said they would co-ordinate to sanction Iranians involved in human rights abuses, amid a rising death toll and fears that many of the estimated 14,000 people detained could face the death penalty.
Within Iran, the niece of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a video message calling on foreign governments to cut all ties with Tehran following the crackdown.
A video of a statement by Farideh Moradkhani, an engineer whose late father was a prominent opposition figure married to Ayatollah Khamenei's sister, was being widely shared online after what activist news agency HRANA said was her arrest on November 23.
"O free people, be with us and tell your governments to stop supporting this murderous and child-killing regime," Ms Moradkhani said in the video.
Rights activists say dozens of children have died in the protests after demonstrations and security crackdowns spread to schools.
"This regime is not loyal to any of its religious principles and does not know any rules except force and maintaining power," she said.
Mr Ronaghi was detained shortly after the protests began, and concern had been growing about his health after he mounted a hunger strike lasting two months.
"Voria Ghafouri and Hossein Ronaghi were released on bail," Iran's Fars news agency said on its social media accounts.
The Iranian newspaper Shargh also said that Mr Ghafouri had been released following his arrest during a training session on Thursday.
"Hossein was released tonight on bail to undergo treatment," Mr Ronaghi's brother Hassan wrote on Twitter.
Their father Ahmad posted a picture of Mr Ronaghi in hospital, saying he had been released after a hunger strike that lasted 64 days.
Among others detained are dozens of prominent journalists, cultural figures, lawyers and sportspeople.
Mr Ghafouri, an outspoken figure who played 28 times for Iran up until 2019, was arrested after a club training session over accusations that he spread "propaganda" against the government, Fars said on Thursday.
Originally from the Kurdish-populated city of Sanandaj in western Iran, Mr Ghafouri had been particularly critical of the crackdown in Kurdish-populated areas of western Iran where activists say dozens have been killed in the last 10 days.
Mr Ronaghi, 37, a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, has for years been one of the most fearless critics of the government still living in the country.
Mr Ronaghi was taken to Evin prison after his arrest on September 24.
His family had said he risks dying due to a kidney condition.
Other prominent figures remain in detention in the crackdown on the protests, which are seen as the biggest challenge to the country’s theocracy since the 1979 revolution ousted the rule of the Shah dynasty.
They include the prominent dissidents Arash Sadeghi and Majid Tavakoli as well as journalists Niloofar Hamedi and Elahe Mohammadi who helped expose the Amini case.
Renowned Iranian film-makers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof were detained this year before the current protests began.