AN IRANIAN official has warned the country’s World Cup team they will face punishment for snubbed the national anthem.
Iranian footballers were seen as standing in solidarity with the mass protest movement current sweeping their home nation.
Tehran has been brutal in cracking down on the uprising over the death of a young woman in police custody in September.
Fears were already swirling that the team could face prison or even death when they returned home – with calls for them to be granted asylum in the UK.
And in the strongest suggestion yet that the team could face reprisals, former Iranian intelligence chief turned and senior politician Mehdi Chamran warned of punishment for the team.
Chamran – a conservative hardliner who is now the head of the Tehran city council – said: “We will never allow anyone to insult our anthem and flag.
“Iranian civilisation has a history of several thousand years, this civilisation is as old as the total of European and American civilisations.”
Other top Iranian politicians also called for the team to be totally replaced by new players who are “willing to sing the national anthem”, reports The Guardian.
Iran’s state run media also attacked the team – but made no mention of them snubbing the national anthem.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s favourite newspaper Kayhan vented fury – blaming the team’s defeat on a “unprecedented psychological media war”.
The newspaper also raged at Iranian fans in the stadium who cheered the team’s defeat at the hands of the Three Lions.
“This campaign did not spare any effort to create a gap between the people of Iran and the members of the Iranian national football team, as well as producing false dichotomies,” it said.
“This political-media movement, mainly Londoners, with the support and coordination of local patriots, from movie and sports celebrities to chain media and Telegram channels, and even reformist political figures, have joined hands to attack the players”
And even as the game kicked off on Monday, protesters continued to take to the streets in Iran – with reports police opened fire with live rounds on a one demonstration.
Another hardline newspaper Vatanemrooz fumed that protesters celebrated the Iranian team’s defeat to England.
Footage shared only shows people cheering and drivers honking their horns as the English side thumped home six goals in a landmark win.
Alicia Kearns MP, chairs the UK’s Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, vowed the UK would support the players if they sought asylum in the UK.
She said there was a “serious and severe” risk to their lives after they refused to sing the anthem – hailing it as a “very bold and brave political statement”.
Political dissent is a crime in Iran – and is one of the offences subject to capital punishment, with 21 protesters already facing execution after sham trials since the start of the uprising in September.
Iranian officials had already been discussing cracking down on perceived disrespect to their national anthem and flag ahead of the World Cup.
And the national team’s defiance on such an international scale will spark fury amongst the regime – and could spark retribution.
Massoud Setayeshi, spokesman for the Iran’s Judiciary, said just days ago that punishments could be meted out for those who reject the anthem.
Iranian courts have been taking a brutal line on people linked to the protests, with more than 15,000 people arrested and hundreds killed by the security forces.
And just last month, teenager Asra Panahi was beaten to death after she reportedly refused to sing a pro-government anthem.
State news agencies also reported just ten days ago an Iranian cleric during prayers called on athletes who disrespect the anthem to face punishment.
Iran’s current president is Ebrahim Raisi – who is known as “The Butcher” for his role in the massacre of thousands of protesters in 1988.
However, Iran has shown restraint in recent months – opting not punish climber Elnaz Rekabi who competed without the nation’s mandatory hijab.
And the Iranian men’s water polo team – who also refused to sing the anthem – have also so-far gone unpunished.
She was arrested and allegedly beaten to death for flouting the strict Islamic dress code.
Dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters.
But there was anger as the national team remained in a state of silence.
The players however turned this silence into a gesture ahead of their game with England as they refused to sing the national anthem.
Iranian state television did not show the players lined up for the anthem before the match got underway just across the Gulf.
The Iranian squad could not avoid being overshadowed by the anti-government unrest that has rattled the regime.
Ahead of the match, no Iranian player had voiced support for the demonstrations by compatriots from all walks of life.
It is one of the most sustained challenges to the cleric elite since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Before travelling to Doha the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.
Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral while the street unrest raged on, drawing an outcry on social media.
Some Iranian fans who went to Qatar for the World Cup made no secret of their solidarity with the unrest.
They carried banners that read “Women, Life, Freedom” in support of the protests.
“Freedom for Iran. Stop killing children in the streets!” shouted one Iranian woman.
Another Iranian woman with the colours of an Iranian flag painted on her face said Iran is a football-crazed nation.
“But this year,” she said, “everything is different, all we care about is this revolution and for people to get their freedom back, and not be scared to just walk on the street, do and dress as they want, and say what they want.”
In the capital Tehran, some banners of the national team have been burned by angry protesters.
Pictures of children killed in the protests were widely shared by Iranians on Twitter, with messages such as: “They loved football too, but they were killed by the Islamic Republic.”
“Those children took risks for their country and were killed by the regime. The national team should take risks and show solidarity with the nation,” said Iran fan Hamidreza, 19.
The Sun Online also spoke to an Iranian football legend who vowed before the game he would be supporting England against Iran.