Ali Karimi: Iranian football star alleges death threats made against him by Iran’s government after supporting protesters

By | November 29, 2022



CNN
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Iranian football star Ali Karimi has claimed that death threats have been made against him, while his family and close friends have been intimidated and harassed by the Iranian government following their support of the country’s ongoing protests.

Known as the ‘Asian Maradona’, Karimi, 44, who retired in 2014, is a longtime critic of the Iranian government and, since the start of protests in Iran in mid-September, has openly supported protesters who took streets to voice their grievances against the regime.

The government has described him as one of the “key leaders” of recent protests in Iran, having issued an arrest warrant in early October, accusing him of “harmonizing with the enemy” and “encouraging riots”, according to Iran’s Supreme Council. . of the Judiciary. Both charges are punishable by death.

In an hour-long interview with Iranian-American comedian Max Amini, posted on the football great’s YouTube channel, Karimi lays out the death threats he says have been made against him, and the intimidations and threats he says his family and close friends have suffered since before protests broke out in Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on 16 September.

    Ali Karimi, playing for Bayern Munich, fixes the ball during a friendly match between Hamburger SV and Bayern on January 20, 2007.

During Iran’s frequent government-induced internet blackouts, Karimi informed protesters on her social media accounts about how they could bypass internet restrictions using VPN and other workarounds.

In retaliation, the government briefly seized his home and belongings, but later released them.

The footballer says that he initially started receiving threats from the Iranian government through his family members, who conveyed threatening messages such as “the verdict to kill Ali (with a bullet) has been issued and we can execute him at any time”.

Karimi alleges that the regime hatched a plot to get him to return to Iran on the pretext that the Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq, better known as the MeK or People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, and Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency are planning to assassinate him. it and blaming the Islamic Republic of Iran.

People close to the government told Karimi: “What we can do for you is for you to go back to Iran, which is a much safer place for you,” the 44-year-old said in the interview.

Until nearly four months ago, Karimi and her family resided in Iran, but later left for Dubai. That’s when the frequency of threats seemed to increase, says the soccer star.

People he believed to be agents of the regime frequently contacted and threatened not only his family but some of his closest friends, says Karimi.

As the protests in Iran began to gather steam, Karimi says people in the regime periodically called him and criticized his social media posts that were pro-youth against the government.

“I would put a post on social media, I would put a story on social media, they would call me, this story is so and so, this post is like this and you will create discord, that kind of thing,” says Karimi.

Government officials reportedly contacted Karimi saying that when the detained youths were interrogated and asked why they were rioting, they said they were motivated by the player’s social media posts.

Karimi notes that the threats made against him, his family and friends are incomparable to the dangers protesters in Iran face.

“Many of our young people in the streets of Iran, they fight against truncheons, against bullets … pellet guns, shotgun bullets … and we see that until now, many of them have unfortunately been killed,” he says.

Human rights activists from the Iran Human Rights group say at least 448 people – including 60 children and 29 women – have been killed in the unrest surrounding the protests.

In the last week alone, “more than 16 people have been killed by repressive forces in Iran. Of those, 12 were killed in Kurdish areas,” the group added.

CNN cannot independently verify the death toll reported by Human Rights Iran – an accurate number is impossible for anyone outside the Iranian government to confirm – and different estimates have been given by opposition groups, international human rights organizations and journalists. locations.

Due to security concerns in the UAE, the football legend and his family recently fled to an undisclosed location from where he conducted the interview.

Karimi says that at the start of the protests, she didn’t have the strength to post on social media because of all the sad news she was seeing from families mourning the loss of their loved ones killed in protests.

But he would read encouraging comments on his posts, comments like “Don’t leave us” and “Our hope is in you and people like you.”

“Sometimes, some things give people a kind of energy and maybe I’d say it again if it weren’t for those loving and encouraging words, posts and commentsv…” Karimi says, choking.

“Reading these comments and posts gave me courage to become active [on social media] again.”

The Iranian government did not respond to allegations made in Karimi’s interview. CNN has reached out to Tehran authorities for comment.

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