IRGC threatens Iranian footballers’ families ahead of US match

LONDON: Iran’s footballers at the World Cup in Qatar have been warned that their families could be imprisoned and tortured if they show any signs of protest or dissent during the team’s final group game on Tuesday.

In their opening game against England, the Iranian players refused to sing the national anthem in a show of solidarity with protests across the country, but did participate during the second game against Wales.

A source told CNN, ahead of the match against the US, that the players had been informed in a meeting with members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that “violence and torture” awaited their relatives if they did not “behave” this time.

It marked a severe change in tone, the source added, as prior to the World Cup the team had been promised lavish gifts if they performed well at the tournament.

Coach Carlos Queiroz also had a separate meeting with IRGC officials, but it is not known what was discussed.

Queiroz had previously said his players could protest as long as it met with criteria established by FIFA.

The source said “dozens” of IRGC members are in Qatar to monitor the players, who are not allowed to meet with or talk to foreigners for the duration of the competition.

“There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players,” the source told CNN.

“In the last game against Wales, the regime sent over hundreds of these actor supporters in order to create a false sense of support and favor amongst the fans.

“For the next game against the US, the regime is planning to significantly increase the number of actors into the thousands.”

Protests have engulfed Iran since September following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini at the hands of the country’s morality police, for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly. Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands arrested, with many facing execution.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk called the situation a “full-fledged human rights crisis.”

Thousands of Iranian fans have taken their protests to World Cup venues, holding anti-regime banners, calling for women’s rights to be protected, and booing the national anthem.