Doha, Qatar – Chants of “Say her name, Mahsa Amini” echoed among protesters outside the Khalifa International Stadium ahead of Iran’s first match of the 2022 World Cup against England.
On Monday, several dozen men, women and children were seen wearing t-shirts that read “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi” (Women, Life, Freedom), a famous chant of Iran’s protests.
Protests have been taking place across Iran since mid-September following the death in custody of Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Iran’s Kurdistan province. Amini was arrested by the country’s morality police in the capital Tehran for allegedly breaking Iran’s dress code for women.
In recent days, protests have been fiercest in northwestern Kurdish-majority provinces, with videos continuing to emerge from several cities, including Mahabad, Bukan and Piranshahr in West Azerbaijan and Javanrud in Kermanshah.
“My people in Iran are under great pressure and are being killed by the regime, so we want to take this opportunity to raise a voice for them,” Mahmoud Izadi, one of the protest organizers, told Al Jazeera in Doha, the capital of Qatar. .
The protests began with clapping and chants of “Iran”, but quickly turned political as an excited crowd began waving banners with Amini’s picture on them.
Dressed all in black to register his protest, Izadi said the protesters want the world to pay attention to the situation in Iran and are using the World Cup as a platform as their votes are being crushed in their homeland.
When those protesters fell silent, a group of men in Iranian soccer jerseys began to support the team.
“People who dance and cheer for Iran have been sent here by the regime to paint a different picture,” Izadi said, adding that he was not there to support the team “because they don’t support our people”.
The most outspoken protesters appear to be those who have traveled to Qatar from places other than Iran.
Others, who appeared to be based in Iran or will be traveling there, simply applauded from the sidelines and evaded attention.
A few families and women declined requests for comment, saying they wanted to stay away from trouble at home.
Hasti, an Iranian-born American who comes here to watch Iran’s games, said she doesn’t think a sports tournament is necessarily the best place to protest, but that there aren’t many options left for the people of her country.
“We are going to use every platform we can get to raise the issue and this may not directly help the people of Iran, but it will help show the world what is happening there.”
Amid the chants, a group of people held up a poster of former Iranian footballer Ali Karimi supporting the protests.
Karimi left the country shortly after protests broke out in Iran.
“The regime was after his life and he has been on the run ever since,” Izadi said.
Abi Shams, dressed in a green T-shirt that says “Help free Iran”, flew in from the US and says his choice of clothing is meant to attract attention.
“What we have in Iran is a dictatorship and we, the protesters, are the voice of the Iranian people,” he said.
As the crowd gathered outside the stadium entrance, people began to push their way through the turnstiles. The demonstrators, however, were left behind for a final round of chanting and clapping and say they have no intention of stopping any time soon.
“We have reached a point where we can’t go back and will no longer be oppressed by the regime,” Izadi said, before joining in a chant of “zan, zindagi, azadi”.