Doha, Qatar – Chants of “Say her name, Mahsa Amini,” echoed among protesters outside the Khalifa International Stadium ahead of Iran’s first match of the 2022 World Cup against England.
A few dozen men, women and children were seen on Monday wearing t-shirts that read “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi” (Women, Life, Freedom), a well-known chant of the protests in Iran.
Protests have been taking place across Iran since mid-September following the death in custody of Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Iran’s Kurdistan province. Amini was arrested by the country’s morality police in the capital Tehran for allegedly not adhering to Iran’s dress code for women.
In recent days, protests have been most intense in northwestern Kurdish-majority provinces, with videos still emerging from several cities, including Mahabad, Bukan and Piranshahr in West Azerbaijan and Javanrud in Kermanshah.
“My people in Iran are under a lot of pressure and are being killed by the regime, so we want to use this opportunity to raise a voice for them,” Mahmoud Izadi, one of the protest organizers, told Al Jazeera in Qatar’s capital, Doha. , said. .
The protests started with hands and chants of “Iran”, but soon turned political when a packed crowd started waving banners with Amini’s picture on them.
Dressed in all black to register his protest, Izadi said the protesters want the world to pay attention to the situation in Iran and are using the World Cup as a platform because their voices are being crushed in their home country.
Once those protesters quieted down, a group of men in Iran football shirts started shouting in support of the team.
“People who dance and cheer for Iran were sent here by the regime to paint a different picture,” Izadi said, adding that he was not there to support the team “because they don’t support our people”.
The most vocal protesters appear to be those who have traveled to Qatar from places other than Iran.
Others, apparently based in Iran or about to travel there, simply clapped from the sidelines and steered away from any attention.
A few families and women declined requests for comment, saying they wanted to stay out of trouble at home.
Hasti, an American who was born in Iran to watch Iran’s games, said she doesn’t think a sports tournament is necessarily the best place to register a protest, but there aren’t many options left for her people. country not
“We’re going to use any platform we can get to raise the issue and it might not help the people in Iran directly, but it will help show the world what’s happening there.”
Amid the chants, a group of people held up a poster of former Iranian soccer player Ali Karimi, who supported the protests.
Karimi left the country shortly after the protests broke out in Iran.
“The regime was after his life and he has been on the run ever since,” Izadi said.
Abi Shams, who dons a green T-shirt that says “Help free Iran,” flew in from the US and says his choice of outfit is aimed at attracting attention.
“What we have in Iran is a dictatorship and we, the protesters, are the voice of the Iranian people,” he said.
As the crowd outside the stadium entrance built, people began making their way through the turnstiles. However, the protesters stayed behind for a final round of chanting and clapping and say they don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“We have reached a point of no return and will no longer be oppressed by the regime,” Izadi said before joining a chant of “zan, zindagi, azadi”.
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