Iranian police detain top footballers at New Year’s Eve party

Players briefly held after raid on mixed-gender party, as elsewhere dissident Keyvan Samimi is released from prison

Iranian police briefly detained several top-tier football players in a raid on a New Year’s Eve party east of Tehran, where men and women allegedly mingled and alcohol was served in violation of an Islamic ban, according to Iranian media reports.

News of the brief arrests of the players, who were not identified, came as the release was announced of the Iranian dissident journalist Keyvan Samimi, who was jailed in December 2020 for “plotting against national security”.

The Tasnim news agency said of the footballer detentions: “Several current and former players of one of Tehran’s prominent football clubs were arrested last night at a mixed party in the city of Damavand.”

The agency added: “Some of these players were in an abnormal state due to alcohol consumption.”

It was not specified how many footballers were held.

Mingling between sexes outside marriage and drinking alcohol are banned under Iran’s islamic laws. Iranian law only permits non-Muslims to consume alcohol for religious purposes. Dancing with the opposite gender is forbidden.

Social restrictions are among issues that prompted mass unrest in recent months. Iran has been shaken by weeks of protests that have spread across the country after the death in custody on 16 September of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman arrested by the morality police for supposedly wearing her hijab inappropriately. The Iranian authorities said their inquiry showed she died from natural causes due to a pre-existing condition, but her family allege she was beaten.

The protests against the clerical establishment have grown into a broad movement to challenge the theocracy that has ruled Iran since 1979. Iranian officials say hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest, including members of the security forces, and thousands have been arrested.

Last month, Iran executed two men, both 23, who had been convicted of attacks against security forces in connection with the protests. A number of current and former footballers as well as other athletes and prominent figures have been detained or questioned by the authorities after voicing support for the protests.

Meanwhile, the reformist newspaper Shargh on Sunday reported the release of the 73-year-old journalist Samimi, who in December 2020 had been sentenced to three years in prison and was held in Semnan, nearly 200km (125 miles) east of Tehran. Shargh did not specify the date of his release.

Samimi had been granted permission to leave prison on medical grounds in February 2022. But he returned to jail in May after being suspected of carrying out activities against national security, the Mehr news agency said.

In December, he issued a message from prison supporting the protest movement after the death of Amini. Samimi had served prison terms before and after the Islamic revolution of 1979.

State media on Sunday reported that a member of Iran’s security forces had been shot dead during protests in the city of Semirom this weekend. “A Basij member was killed in the city of Semirom by armed criminals,” the official news agency IRNA reported, referring to the paramilitary force linked to the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

IRNA said protesters had gathered late on Saturday in the city, about 470km (290 miles) south of the capital, in the central Isfahan province. They rallied in front of the regional administration building and other locations in Semirom, it added.

“Security forces were deployed to establish order in the city and, in some cases, clashes occurred with several rioters,” the report said.

The judiciary has said nine others have been sentenced to death. Campaigners said this week that dozens of protesters also faced charges that carried a potential death sentence.

Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report

Guardian staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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