February 3, 2023
Screenshot of Saeid Ezatolahi's Instagram post.

Anti-government demonstrations took place in and around Qatar stadiums and across Iran after an Iranian man was shot dead by security forces after the country’s national team lost to the United States and pulled out of the World Cup.

Mehran Samak, 27, was shot dead after honking his horn in the Caspian city of Bandar Anzali, northwest of Tehran, according to human rights activists.

The Oslo-based Iranian Human Rights Organization (IHR) said Samak was “directly targeted and shot in the head by security forces after the national team’s defeat against the United States”.

The contest between the two countries, which severed diplomatic ties more than 40 years ago, took place against the backdrop of a violent crackdown in Iran after the death in custody of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, sparked protests in September.

Iranian security forces have killed at least 448 people, including 60 children under the age of 18 and 29 women, in a crackdown on protests, IHR reported.

In a surprise move, Saeed Ezatorahi, an Iran international midfielder from the town of Anzali, revealed that he knew Samak and posted a photo of them together in the youth football team.

“After last night’s painful loss, the news of your passing ignites my heart,” Ezatolahi said on Instagram, describing Samak as a “childhood teammate.”

Screenshot of Saeid Ezatolahi’s Instagram post. Photo: Instagram

He did not comment on the cause of his friend’s death, but said: “One day the mask will come off and the truth will come out.”

He added: “This is not what our young people deserve. This is not what our country deserves.”

Distraught by the result, Ezatolahi was comforted by his teammates and the American players after the final whistle.

Many Iranians refused to support the national team, and videos on social media showed crowds cheering and setting off fireworks after Tuesday night’s game.

The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also reported that Samak was killed by security forces while celebrating. CHRI released video of Samak’s funeral in Tehran on Wednesday, where mourners can be heard shouting “Death to the dictator”. The chants aimed at Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were among the main chants of the protests.

Later on Tuesday, exiled Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad tweeted a video of the celebration, writing: “Iran is a country where people are passionate about football. Now they are taking to the streets of Sanandaj to celebrate their The soccer team lost to the US team.” She also posted a video of fireworks over Mahsa Amini’s hometown of Saqqez.

Iran is a country where people love football very much. Now they take to the streets of Sanandaj to celebrate their soccer team’s loss to the US.
They don’t want the government using sport to regulate its murderous regime.pic.twitter.com/EMh8mREsQn pic.twitter.com/MqpxQZqT20

— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) November 29, 2022

Iranians also celebrated in Mariwan, one of the cities in the Kurdish region of western Iran, where security forces stepped up their crackdown on Nov. 21, shooting protesters directly and killing them with heavy weapons within 24 hours, rights groups said. A dozen people died.

Celebrations were also held in Tehran and the Kurdistan capital Sanandaj.

The celebrations came after fans outside Doha stadiums tried to highlight the protests and the crackdown by the Iranian government. “Everyone should know about this. We have no say in Iran,” an Iranian living in the United States, who gave only his name as Sam, told Reuters.

Shortly before kickoff, Erham, 21, said by phone from Tehran that she hoped the U.S. would win because a victory for the national team, known as the Meli team, would be a gift to Iranian authorities. “It’s not my national team. It’s not the melli team, it’s the mullahs’ team,” she said.

Iranians celebrate the Islamic Republic’s national team’s loss to the United States.

The pinnacle of Iranian history:

A country that adores football, adores the national team – people are celebrating getting kicked out of the World Cup. https://t.co/yOrBvieOQE

— Nahayat Tizosh (@NahayatT) November 29, 2022

Additional security personnel, some on horseback, patrolled outside the Al Thumama stadium ahead of the game, while perimeter guards asked Iranians to unfurl their flags before entering. Police are stationed throughout the stadium along with general security. Some carried batons.

At the start of the second half, a group of fans briefly held up the letters spelling out Mahsa Amini’s name, drawing applause from surrounding Iranian fans. Security took their signs away but allowed them to remain in their seats.

Under pressure to publicly support protesters at home, Iran refused to sing the national anthem in their opening game against England, which they lost 6-2. But they sang it before their second game, a 2-0 win over Wales, and did it again on Tuesday. When Iran lost to England, There are also celebrations in Tehran.

Outside the stadium after the game, Reuters reporters saw security guards chasing the two men in a series of scuffles around the perimeter of the pitch. Three guards pinned a man to the ground wearing a T-shirt that read “Women, Life, Freedom”, a slogan at the heart of Iran’s protest movement.

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