Iranian footballers detained after raid of mixed-gender New Year's Eve party

Arrests come after months of protests against Iran's hardline government

A woman in Tehran walks past a mural featuring the Iranian flag. Photo: West Asia News Agency via Reuters
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Iranian authorities briefly detained several top-tier football players after a raid on a New Year's Eve party where women were present and alcohol was served in violation of the country's strict religious rules, state media reported on Sunday, without identifying those held.

"Several current and former players of one of Tehran's prominent football clubs were arrested last night at a mixed party in the city of Damavand," the semi-official Tasnim news agency said.

"Some of these players were in an abnormal state due to alcohol consumption," it said.

Iranian law permits only non-Muslims to consume alcohol for religious purposes. Dancing with the opposite gender is forbidden.

The YJC news agency said the gathering was a birthday party and added that all those detained had been released except one person, who is not a soccer player.

The semi-official Fars news agency cited a prosecutor as saying a case had been filed against those who had been detained, and details would be released later.

The was no immediate comment from Iran's football federation.

Social restrictions are among the driving issues behind months of protests in Iran against its hardline clerical rulers since the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a young Iranian Kurdish woman who was arrested in Tehran for allegedly violating the country's strict dress code for women.

Thousands of protesters have been arrested and more than 500 killed in a crackdown on the demonstrations, according to human rights groups. Authorities have also detained prominent personalities who voiced support for the protests, including a number of current and former footballers as well as other athletes.

Officials say dozens of members of the security forces have been killed during the protests, including members of the Basij volunteer militia associated with Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On Saturday, a Basij member was killed during a protest in Semirom, a city about 470km south of the capital Tehran in the central Isfahan province, state media reported.

The official news agency Irna said he was killed by "armed criminals".

It said protesters had gathered in the city late on Saturday and demonstrated in front of the regional administration building and other locations in Semirom.

"Security forces were deployed to establish order in the city and, in some cases, clashes occurred with several rioters," the report said.

Last month, Iran executed two men, both 23, who had been convicted of attacks against security forces in connection with the protests.

The judiciary has said nine others have been sentenced to death. Campaigners said last week that dozens of protesters also face charges that carry a potential death sentence.

Three protesters convicted of crimes that carry the death penalty have been granted retrials after appealing to Iran’s Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a dissident journalist jailed in December 2020 for "plotting against national security", has been released, the reformist daily Shargh reported on Sunday.

Keyvan Samimi, 73, was sentenced to three years in prison and was held in Semnan, nearly 200km east of Tehran.

The newspaper did not specify the date of his release.

Samimi had been granted permission to leave prison on medical grounds in February last year.

But he returned to prison in May after being suspected of carrying out activities against national security, the Mehr News Agency said.

In December, he issued a message from prison supporting the protest movement.

Samimi has served prison terms both before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that ushered in Iran’s current clerical regime.

Updated: January 01, 2023, 3:01 PM