Protests against human rights abuses staged in London ahead of World Cup

Protests against human rights abuses in Iran and Qatar were held in central London on Saturday ahead of the World Cup.

A group of 22 Iranian women played football in Westminster in a protest against their country’s regime.

The women wore football kits, as well as t-shirts with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

They laughed and cheered as they kicked the ball between each other on College Green.

Some dribbled while carrying the Iranian flag while others blew whistles and chanted “Mahsa Amini”, in 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.”

FIFA World Cup 2022 protest
British-Iranian women protest in Westminster wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

She called on England’s football team to raise awareness of the situation during their match against Iran on Monday.

“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.

FIFA World Cup 2022 protest
Shirley Elghanian cuts her hair in protest against the Iran regime (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

She then held her hair up and cut off a chunk of it with a scissors while the other women cheered, a gesture which has become a symbol of the women’s rights movement in Iran

Later Made In Chelsea star Mark-Francis Vandelli joined the women at the protest in Westminster.

Mr Vandelli addressed the press, before posing for photos with the women.

He also called on the public to blow 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.”

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.

FIFA World Cup 2022 protest
British-Iranian women play football on College Green in Westminster in protest against the Iran regime in advance of the England v Iran World Cup match in Qatar on Monday (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“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.”

FIFA World Cup 2022 Protest – Saturday 19th November
Peter Tatchell joins the protest against the Qatar Fifa World Cup 2022 outside the Qatar embassy in London (James Manning/PA)

The Iranian women then moved on to a protest outside the Qatari embassy, organised by LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

The build-up to the World Cup has been dominated by criticism of Qatar over the treatment of often migrant workers and concerns about LGBT rights.

A small crowd of protesters had gathered outside the embassy in protest against the Qatari regime’s treatment of those groups.

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.

“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.”