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A match involving Iran at the World Cup in Qatar has once again been shrouded by controversy after anti-regime protesters were harassed by their compatriots before kick-off while others wept when their team was forced to sing the national anthem.
Iran took on Wales in their second group game of the controversial tournament and the political turmoil gripping the Islamic Republic spilled out into the open on the global stage for the second time in just a few days.
Widespread unrest has broken out in the Middle East country following the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in custody. She had been arrested for not wearing her hijab, which is illegal under the country’s strict religious rules.
Qatari authorities prevented Iran fans from taking into the stadium in Doha any banners that weren’t Iran’s official flag. Images from the match showed one woman being confronted by authorities after brandishing a jersey with Ms Amini’s name on it and the number 22.
A man pictured alongside her brandished a flag emblazoned with the words, ‘Woman life freedom’ – a campaign that calls for greater equality between men and women in Iran. Security removed the items.
Fans cried when Iran’s national anthem was played after the players were forced to sing it days after refusing to do so in their first game against England.
Pro-regime fans were accused of harassing anti-goverment fans outside the stadium before the match kicked off.
Some Iran fans confiscated Persian pre-revolutionary Iranian flags from supporters entering the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and shouted insults at those wearing shirts with the slogan of the ‘Woman life freedom’ movement on it.
Small mobs of men angrily chanted “The Islamic Republic of Iran” at women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium.
Shouting matches erupted outside the security checkpoint 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, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns surrounded her and filmed her face up close. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.
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 here,” she said.
A group of fans wearing hats emblazoned with the name of the Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafori, who was arrested in Iran on Thursday, said 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 United States, 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,” 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.