Doha, Qatar — Before Iran’s first game at the 2022 World Cup against England, chants of “Say Her Name, Mahsa Amini” echoed among demonstrators outside the Khalifa International Stadium.
A few dozen men, women and children wore T-shirts on Monday with the words “Zan, Zindagi, Azadi” (Women, Life, Freedom), a famous song from the protests in Iran.
Since mid-September, protests have been taking place across Iran after Amini, a 22-year-old woman from the Iranian province of Kurdistan, died in custody. Amini was arrested by the country’s moral police in the capital Tehran for allegedly failing to comply with the Iranian dress code for women.
In recent days, the protests have been most intense in the majority Kurdish provinces in northwestern Kurds. Videos continued to be released 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. That’s why we want to use this opportunity to speak out for them,” Mahmoud Izadi, one of the protest organizers, told CNN Breaking News in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The protests began with clapping and chanting from “Iran,” but soon became political when a charged crowd began waving banners with Amini’s image on them.
Dressed all in black to register his protest, Izadi said the demonstrators 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 suppressed in their home country.
As the demonstrators fell silent, a group of men in Iranian soccer shirts began screaming to support the team.
“People dancing and cheering for Iran were sent here by the regime to paint a different picture,” said Izadi, adding that he wasn’t there to support the team “because they don’t support our people.”
The most vocal demonstrators appear to be those who traveled to Qatar from places other than Iran.
Others who appeared to be based in Iran or are going to travel there simply clapped from the sideline, distracting themselves from any attention.
Some families and women declined requests for comment and said they wanted to stay away from problems at home.
Hasti, an Iranian-born American who is here to watch Iran’s games, said she doesn’t think a sports tournament is necessarily the best place to register a demonstration, but there aren’t many options left for people in her country.
“We’re going to use whatever platform we can get to address the issue, and that might not help people in Iran directly, but it’ll help show the world what’s happening there.”
In the midst of the songs, a group of people held up a poster of former Iranian soccer player Ali Karimi, who supported the protests.
Karimi left the country shortly after the outbreak of protests in Iran.
“The regime was after his life and he’s been on the run ever since,” said Izadi.
Abi Shams, who is wearing a green T-shirt that says “Help free Iran,” flew in from the US and says his choice of outfit is aimed at attracting attention.
“What we have in Iran is a dictatorship and we, the demonstrators, are the voice of the Iranian people,” he said.
As the crowd huddled in front of the stadium entrance, people made their way through the turnstiles. However, the demonstrators stayed behind for a final round of singing and clapping, saying they had no plans to stop anytime soon.
“We’ve reached a point where there is no turning back and we will no longer be oppressed by the regime,” said Izadi before joining a song of “zan, zindagi, azadi.”