22 Iranian women played football in Westminster on Saturday in a protest against their country’s regime before the international tournament kicks off on Sunday.
Sporting football kits, the women cheered as they kicked the ball on College Green.
The campaigners were also seen sporting powerful t-shirts which featured the slogan: “Woman, Life, Freedom”.
British-Iranian women playing football, protest on College Green in Westminster, London against the Iran regime in advance of the England v Iran World Cup match in Qatar on Monday (PA) (Image: PA)
Iranian women protest human rights abuses in London ahead of World Cup
Some of the protesters carried an Iranian flag and blew whistles.
Others chanted ‘Mahsa Amini’ as they paid tribute to the woman who died in custody after she was detained for allegedly failing to follow the country’s Islamic dress code.
Speaking to the PA news agency at the protest, lawyer Leila Mansouri said there was a “gender apartheid” in Iran.
“We are here today in London to raise awareness about the atrocities going on just a couple of hundred miles away from Qatar, ahead of the football match between Iran and England,” she said.
“We have brought together 22 women, to represent the age of Mahsa Amini, who was killed by the morality police in Iran.
“Women can not attend men’s matches in Iran. There is a gender apartheid in Iran, as many people already know.”
Ms Mansouri continued by calling on England’s football team to raise awareness of the situation ahead of their opening match against Iran on Monday, November 21.
British-Iranian women protest on College Green in Westminster, London against the Iran regime in advance of the England v Iran World Cup match in Qatar on Monday (PA) (Image: PA)
She added: “We are counting on the England team to raise awareness, even if it’s just a simple act of cutting their hair.”
The women then gathered around as protester Shirley Elghanian called on the public to blow their whistles for one minute at the start of each of Iran’s three group stage matches.
“We would like to ask you, in solidarity with those who are on the streets in Iran, please can you blow your whistles for one minute at the start of each of (Iran’s) three matches,” she said.
Ms Elghanian then symbolically held up her hair and cut off a chunk with scissors while the other protesters cheered.
This gesture has become a well-known symbol of the women’s rights movement in Iran.
The campaigners were later joined by Made In Chelsea star Mark-Francis Vandell.
Before taking photos with the women, Mr Vandelli spoke to the press where he called in the public to blow on their whistles for one minute before the start of each of Iran’s matches.
He told the PA news agency: “We are all here in solidarity for the women in Iran. We ask that everybody can blow a whistle for one minute before every Iran match.”
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He said he had come to show his support because of the “atrocities” happening in Iran. “The atrocities that are happening in Iran are not being spoken about widely enough,” he said.
“It’s very, very important to bring this to the public domain.”
He said there was an “infinite” number of things people can do to show support.
“There is an infinite number of things people can do,” he said.
“Social media is such a powerful tool. For this very reason it should be used to do good and at least bring awareness.”
The protests then left College Green and began campaigning outside the Qatari embassy which was organised by LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Speaking outside the embassy, Mr Tatchell called on the public to boycott the World Cup.
“It is really important that wherever possible we boycott the World Cup. Don’t watch it, don’t support it,” he said.
“But I understand that football fans feel very passionate, so OK, watch your games, but please use social media to amplify human rights abuses in Qatar and to support those very brave Qataris striving for democracy and human rights.”
He said that human rights campaigners in Qatar had told him that they want the protests to shine a light on the country’s regime.
“I have been speaking with human rights defenders in Qatar and in exile, mostly LGBT, women and labour rights activists,” he said.
Shirley Elghanian cuts her hair in protest with other British-Iranian women on College Green in Westminster, London against the Iran regime in advance of the England v Iran World Cup match in Qatar on Monday. (PA) (Image: PA)
“They all say they want protests to shine a light on the tyranny of the regime, and to support their struggle for freedom.
“They want protests, because they know the power of publicity is what the Qatar regime really fears.”
The protests follow international criticism of Qatar over its treatment of often migrant workers and concerns about LGBT rights in the country.
Robbie Williams, who will sign at the tournament, has defended his choice to sing at the World Cup after other major names refused to perform.
British comedian Joe Lycett also issued an ultimatum to former footballer David Beckham over his controversial deal with Qatar to promote the upcoming world cup.
David Beckham is an ambassador for Qatar ahead of the World Cup and is being paid to endorse Qatar.
Lycett informed the former player that if he does end his deal with Qatar, he will donate the money to charities that support queer people in football.