An Iranian man was shot dead by security forces after Iran’s national team lost to the United States and exited the World Cup, as antigovernment demonstrations took place across Iran and inside and outside the stadium in Qatar.
Mehran Samak (27) was shot dead after honking his car horn in Bandar Anzali, a city on the Caspian Sea coast, northwest of Tehran, according to human rights activists.
Mr Samak “was targeted directly and shot in the head by security forces ... following the defeat of the national team against America”, said the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR).
In an extraordinary twist, Iranian international midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi, who played in the US match and is from Bandar Anzali, revealed that he knew Mr Samak and posted a picture of them together in a youth football team.
“After last night’s bitter loss, the news of your passing set fire to my heart,” said Mr Ezatolahi on Instagram, describing Mr Samak as a “childhood team-mate”.
He did not comment on the circumstances of his friend’s death but said: “Some day the masks will fall, the truth will be laid bare.” He added: “This is not what our youth deserve. This is not what our nation deserves.”
Mr Ezatolahi, distraught at the result, had been seen after the final whistle being comforted both by his team-mates and the US players.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) also reported that Mr Samak had been killed by the security forces while celebrating. CHRI published a video from his funeral in Tehran on Wednesday at which mourners could be heard shouting “death to the dictator”.
The chant, aimed at Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is one of the main slogans of the protests.
Many Iranians had refused to support the national team, and after the match on Tuesday night, footage on social media showed crowds cheering and setting off fireworks.
The contest between Iran and the United States – the countries severed diplomatic ties more than 40 years ago – took place against a backdrop of violent repression in Iran after protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini (22), a Kurdish woman, in September.
Iran’s security forces have killed at least 448 people in the crackdown on the protests, including 60 children under the age of 18 and 29 women, according to IHR.
Extra security personnel, some mounted on horseback, patrolled outside the Al Thumama stadium in Qatar before the match, while guards at the perimeter made Iranians unfurl their flags before entering. Police were stationed throughout the stadium alongside regular security guards. Some carried batons.
Early in the second half, a group of fans briefly held up letters spelling Mahsa Amini’s name to applause from the Iranian supporters around them. Security personnel took their signs but allowed them to remain in their seats.
Under pressure to publicly support protesters at home, the Iranian team declined to sing the national anthem in their first game against England, which they lost 6-2. But they sang it before the second game, a 2-0 victory over Wales, and again on Tuesday. When Iran lost to England, there were celebrations in Tehran too.
Outside the stadium after the match, Reuters journalists saw security chase two people in a series of scuffles on the ground’s perimeter. Three guards pinned one man to the ground who was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “woman, life, freedom”, the central slogan of the Iranian protest movement. – Guardian