Iran government supporters confront protesters at World Cup

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (AP) — Iran's political turmoil cast a shadow also over Iran’s second match at the World Cup on Friday, with pro-government fans harassing anti-government fans outside the stadium in Qatar.

Unlike in their first match against England, the Iran players sang along to their national anthem before the match against Wales as some fans in the stadium wept.

Some Iran fans confiscated Persian pre-revolutionary Iranian flags from supporters entering the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium and shouted insults at those wearing shirts with the slogan of the country’s protest movement, “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

Small mobs of men angrily chanted “The Islamic Republic of Iran” at women giving interviews about the protests to foreign media outside the stadium.

Shouting matches erupted outside the security checkpoint at the between fans screaming “Women, Life, Freedom” and others shouting back “The Islamic Republic.”

Many female fans were visibly shaken as Iranian government supporters surrounded them with national flags and filmed them on their phones.

One 35-year-old woman named Maryam, who like other Iran fans declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals, started to cry as shouting men blowing horns surrounded her and filmed her face up close. She had the words “Woman Life Freedom” painted on her face.

Another woman named Vanya, 21, who lives in Qatar, said she was terrified to ever go back to Iran after what she experienced outside the stadium on Friday. “I’m genuinely afraid for my safety here,” she said.

A group of fans wearing hats emblazoned with the name of the Iranian former soccer player Voria Ghafori, who was arrested in Iran on Thursday, said they had their hats stolen by government supporters.

“It’s obvious that the match had become very politicized this week. You can see people from the same country who hate each other,” said Mustafa, a 40-year-old Iran fan. “I think three arrest of Voria has also affected society in Iran a lot.”

Some fans said stadium security removed items with messages in support of the protest movement.

Ayeh Shams from the United States, who was at the game with her brother, said security guards confiscated her flag because it had the word “women” on it.

“We’re first generation American. Our parents were born in Iran. We’re just here to enjoy the games and give a platform for the Iranian people who are fighting against the Islamic regime,” Shams said.

Some anti-government fans waved signs in support of the protest movement at Iran's first match against England earlier this week. Before that match, Iran's players remained silent as their national anthem played. On Friday, they sang along.

The unrest in Iran was spurred by the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police. It first focused on the state-mandated hijab, or headscarf, for women, but has since morphed into one of the most serious threats to the Islamic Republic since the chaotic years following its founding.

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Isabel Debre, The Associated Press