The soccer world is in adoration of Lionel Messi after his inspirational efforts that helped Argentina win its first World Cup in 36 years on Sunday in Qatar, but in another part of the Middle East, a darker story is unfolding.
A 26-year-old soccer player in Iran, Amir Nasr-Azadani, is facing possible execution after he participated in a women’s rights demonstration in his nation. There has been worldwide condemnation of the decision and support for similar protests that followed the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was allegedly beaten severly by morality police after she was arrested for an alleged hijab-wearing violation. The beatings are believed to have led to her death from a fatal head injury, although Iranian authorities have denied that accusation.
Who Is Amir Nasr-Azadani?
Nasr-Azadani has been a professional soccer player since 2015, playing three seasons in the Persian Gulf Pro League until 2018.
In the final two years of that time, he played with Iran’s Tractor Cultural Sports Economic Club as a defender. Before that, he played for Sepahan S.C., another Iranian team, from 2012 to 2015 during his youth league career.
What Has Amir Nasr-Azadani been accused of?
Nasr-Azadani was arrested for his participation in a women’s rights demonstration in which three security agents died.
The September 16 protest was decried by the Iranian government, which called it an “armed riot,” according to the sports blog Deadspin.
The Iranian player also faces allegations of “waging war against God” and is reportedly set to be hanged.
The protests over Amini have involved women publicly burning their hijabs (headscarves) and cutting their hair in protest of the Iranian government’s strict rules on women. The demonstrations mark the largest protests in the country since the 2009 Green Revolution, after then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was accused of manipulating votes to win reelection.
So far, more than 300 protesters have reportedly been killed by security forces attempting to quell the demonstrations. In a letter in November, a majority of the Iranian parliament called for harsh punishment for the protesters, with some also chanting “death to seditionists.”
Why Is Shakira involved?
Colombian singer Shakira highlighted Nasr-Azadani’s plight on Twitter during the World Cup final, hoping to get the attention of her followers during the soccer tournament.
She tweeted: “Today at the final of the World Cup, I only hope the players on the field and the whole world remembers that there’s a man and fellow footballer called Amir Nasr, on death row, only for speaking in favor of Women’s rights.”
Shakira, who was married to Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué, followed up with another tweet, telling her fans: “I hope there’s more than a minute of silence in our hearts to remember what’s important and more than one voice united screaming for what is just.”
How Have Pro Soccer Players Reacted?
Nasr-Azadani’s detention and possible execution got an angry response from a global union for pro-soccer players, FIFPRO, tweeting its disgust at the situation.
In a tweet last Monday, the organization wrote: “FIFPRO is shocked and sickened by reports that professional footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani faces execution in Iran after campaigning for women’s rights and basic freedom in his country.
The tweet added: “We stand in solidarity with Amir and call for the immediate removal of his punishment.”
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