Iran protesters at World Cup say they have been followed and harassed, had signs confiscated

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Iran protesters at World Cup followed, harassed
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The World Cup game between the U.S. and Iran served as a spotlight on the human rights protest movement sweeping through Iran.

DOHA, Qatar (KGO) -- As the world watched the match-up between the U.S. and Iran, San Jose residents Mehdi Mirabian and Karina Mann hoped to draw attention for what is happening off the field -- not just on it.

Mirabian is an Iranian-American activist who traveled from the Bay Area to the World Cup in Qatar with the hopes of bringing awareness to the human rights issues in Iran. He's been among many in the stands who have worn "Free Iran" shirts, waved flags saying "Women Life Freedom" and held up images of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old who allegedly died in police custody in Iran for violating the country's hijab laws.

He said he and his fellow demonstrators have had several of those items confiscated by security.

"Things have become pretty hot out here, and I don't mean the actual temperature," Mirabiran told ABC7 News before the game between the U.S. and Iran.

"A lot of security guards were either confiscating flags and things at the security checkpoints, or they would make their ways into the crowds after they had been informed by supporters of the regime as to where protesters may be standing," his girlfriend Karina Mann added.

VIDEO: To these Bay Area Iranian soccer fans in Qatar, US-Iran's World Cup game goes beyond the pitch

Mirabiran said security confiscated a shirt that said "Women Life Freedom" while entering the U.S.-Iran game on Tuesday.

In the stands, people were seen wearing shirts in support of Mahsa Amini and other young people allegedly killed in Iran. Others held up signs spelling out Mahsa Amini's name.

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But Mirabiran and Mann say they had hoped to do more.

"Every seat is basically surrounded by Islamic republic's people," Mirabiran told ABC7 News during the game. "And it's just a very tough place right now."

"They've done a really good job with making sure that if someone were trying to say something other than 'Iran' their voice would be lost," Mann added. "They've got really big drums, and people running up and down the aisles trying to chant certain words, so it's definitely a challenge today to try to do anything."

Ahead of the game, CNN reported that families of Iran's World Cup soccer team had been threatened with imprisonment and torture if the players failed to behave at the match. At their opening game last week, Iranian players stood silent and refused to sing the Iranian Republic's national anthem. At the game Tuesday, the players did not protest and did sing along.

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Kamran Amintaheri is an Iranian-American activist who lives in the Bay area. Despite the threats, he was disappointed the Iranian players did not make a public gesture in solidarity with the protesters.

"It is unacceptable that they didn't do anything," Amintaheri said.

Still, he understands the dangers and hopes the match-up sent a message worldwide.

"Awareness," he said. "And to know that Iranians are fighting."

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