A friend of Iranian midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi was shot and killed by his country's security forces Tuesday after the team's loss to the United States at the World Cup, a group of human rights activists told The Guardian.
Mehran Samak, 27, was reportedly shot after honking his car horn in the port city of Bandar Anzali, located in Iran's northwestern Gilan province. The incident came amid a wave of anti-government protests across the country.
Per the Center for Human Rights in Iran via the Guardian, Samak had been celebrating the World Cup loss, which clinched the Americans' advance into the knockout stages of the tournament and sent Iran home. Per local journalists, some Iranians have been celebrating the loss as a blow to Iran's government, which has been attempting to suppress the protests sparked by Mahsa Amini.
Amini was arrested in September by Iran's morality police for violating the country's dress code, specifically by not wearing a hijab. Her death, widely believed to be at the hands of government forces, has sparked a movement against the country's conservative regime, which has responded with a crackdown that has killed hundreds of people.
The situation has left the Iranian World Cup players in an impossible position, as reflected by what happened after their refusal to sing their country's national anthem ahead of their opening match against England. After reports of threats of violence and torture against their families, the team sang the anthem with muted expressions before their next match against Wales.
Now, Ezatolahi is facing another consequence of the crackdown. He confirmed his connection to the man killed through his Instagram story Wednesday, posting a Persian message mourning the death of a "childhood teammate" without addressing the circumstances.
He did, however, indicate a desire for change, via the Guardian:
“Some day the masks will fall, the truth will be laid bare.”
He added: “This is not what our youth deserve. This is not what our nation deserves.”
Images of Ezatolahi went viral the previous day, following the USMNT's 1-0 win over Iran in their final match of the group stage. Iran entered the match needing a win or tie to earn a surprise advance to the knockout portion of the World Cup, only for the U.S. to grab the victory.
U.S. players Josh Sargent and DeAndre Yedlin then consoled an emotional Ezatolahi on the field:
Iran's story at the World Cup is now over, but there is clearly much more to be concerned about for the country and its people.