The head of Iran’s boxing federation has said he will not return home from a tournament in Spain, amid a nationwide wave of protests triggered by Mahsa Amini’s death.
The Islamic republic has been rocked by demonstrations since the September 16 death in custody of the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of Iran’s strict dress rules for women.
Authorities in Iran describe the protests as “riots” and accuse the country’s Western foes of fomenting them.
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“I have decided not to return to Iran so that I can be the voice of those whose voices aren’t heard by the authorities,” Hossein Soori said in a video shared on social media on Saturday.
He noted “in particular the residents of Sistan-Baluchistan”, a province on Iran’s southeastern border with Pakistan, where he said “dozens of innocent people have been killed”.
Flashpoint Sistan-Baluchistan, one of Iran’s poorest regions, is home to the Baluchi ethnic minority, who mostly follow Sunni Islam rather than the Shiite faith predominant in Iran.
Iranian media said violence in the region’s main city Zahedan has killed around 20 people including six members of the security forces, but foreign-based rights groups reported dozens more deaths.
“I could no longer serve my dear country, in a system that so easily sheds the blood of human beings,” Soori said.
Head of the boxing federation since 2017, Soori travelled with the national team to the Spanish region of Alicante for the Youth World Boxing Championships that began on Monday.
A spokesman for the federation, Issa Golmohammadi, expressed disappointment at Soori’s move, with still almost a week to go before the tournament ends.
“If he wanted to protest, he could have resigned,” Golmohammadi told the Mehr news agency on Sunday.
“It would have certainly been better for him to resign in advance, rather than travel to Spain at the nation’s expense.”
“He has left the team in the middle of the tournament and dealt a serious blow and shock to this youth team,” the spokesman charged.
“His attitude is not ethical whatsoever.”
Prominent Iranian ex-footballers have also voiced support for the protesters, and national team players have faced calls from activists to use the World Cup, which kicks off Sunday in Qatar, to show solidarity with demonstrators who have been killed.
The coach of the popular Persepolis FC football team, Yahya Golmohammadi, had been questioned over his comments about the protests, Iran’s judiciary said Saturday.