Doha, Qatar – Chants of “Say her name, Mahsa Amini,” resounded among protesters outside the Khalifa International Stadium ahead of Iran’s 2022 World Cup opener against England.
A few dozen men, women and children were seen on Monday wearing T-shirts reading “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi” (women, life, freedom), a famous chant from protests in Iran.
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, allegedly for not adhering to Iran’s dress code for women.
In recent days, protests have been most intense in the Kurdish-majority northwestern provinces, with videos continuing to emerge from various cities, including Mahabad, Bukan and Piranshahr in West Azerbaijan and Javanrud in Kermanshah.
“My people in Iran are under a lot of pressure and are being killed by the regime, so we want to take this opportunity to speak up for them,” Mahmoud Izadi, one of the protest organizers, told Al Jazeera in the capital of Iran. Qatar, Doha. .
The protests began with applause and chants of “Iran,” but soon turned political when a charged crowd began waving banners bearing Amini’s photo.
Dressed completely in black to register their 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 because their voices are being crushed in their home country.
Once the protesters had quieted down, a group of men wearing Iran soccer jerseys began chanting in support of the team.
“The regime has sent people here who are dancing and cheering for Iran to paint a different picture,” Izadi said, adding that he was not there to support the team “because they are not supporting our people.”
The loudest protesters appear to be those who have traveled to Qatar from places other than Iran.
Others, who appeared to be based in Iran or would travel there, would simply clap from the sidelines and walk away from any attention.
Some families and women declined requests for comment, saying they wanted to stay out of trouble at home.
Hasti, an Iranian-born American here to watch Iran’s games, said she doesn’t think a sports tournament is necessarily the best place to register a protest, but there aren’t many options left for people in her country.
“We are going to use whatever 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 banner of former Iranian soccer player Ali Karimi, who has been 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, clad in a green “Help Free Iran” T-shirt, flew in from the US and says his outfit choice is meant to turn heads.
“What we have in Iran is a dictatorship and we, the protesters, are the voice of the Iranian people,” he said.
As the crowds built up in front of the stadium entrance, people started going through the turnstiles. The protesters, however, stayed behind for one last round of chants and applause and say they don’t plan to stop anytime soon.
“We have reached a point of no return and we will no longer be suppressed by the regime,” Izadi said, before joining the chant of “zan, zindagi, azadi”.