"Iranian footballer sentenced to death:" what Western media headlines 'forgot' to mention

25 Dec 2022

"Iranian footballer sentenced to death:" what Western media headlines 'forgot' to mention

By Damian Lenard

December 25, 2022



"Duh," someone might say, "that's the case in any country." Perhaps. But it might seem like 'Iran experts' around the world suspend this area of common sense — and hope their audience follow suit — when crafting and disseminating stories against the favorite punching bag of mainstream Western media, the Islamic Republic.

When a doctor, actress or athlete faces the legal system in Tehran or Isfahan, the profession of the defendant is turned into the central piece of the moral shock argument. The effect is successful when the audience is sufficiently manipulated by the premise ("footballer sentenced to death" / "actress arrested") to take the offered explanation for granted, no matter its absurdity ("for protesting" / "for supporting women"). The desired result is the cancellation of any sincere inquiry and curiosity of the spectator as to why a particular individual among all the other — supposedly legions of — Iranians who protest and support women, ends up facing the judiciary system. 

In Nasr-Azadani's case, the "Iranian footballer sentenced to death for supporting women," even the premise is riddled with flaws:

Iranian footballer

Nasr-Azadani has not played for any professional football league for the last 4 years, when he last played for Tractor in East Azerbaijan. He was 22 years old when his career as footballer ended. 

Sentenced to death

According to Asadullah Jafari, Chief Justice of Isfahan Province, by the time the propaganda of a footballer sentenced to death was spread around the world between December 12-14 and up to the publication of this article, no sentence on the case related to Nasr-Azadani had been issued, as investigations are ongoing to examine the local video evidence and witness reports. Jafari pointed out that the accused has even confessed in clear terms to his criminal actions.

For supporting women

Or for protesting. Or for supporting protests, depending on the source of disinformation. However, either of these claims seem absent from the actual indictment of the prosecution. What Western headlines conveniently left out was what exactly Nasr-Azadani did last November 16, different from what other Iranian football players who took to the streets or to social media to protest, support protests or support [a rather specific type of] women in Iran.

What actually happened

Sporadic nationwide events of violent rioting followed the collapse and subsequent death of young student Mahsa Amini at a police station in Tehran last September. The death was convolutedly blamed by some on the entire Islamic Republic establishment, despite the absence of any evidence of causal relationship between her brief detention and her death. 

Carefully engineered social and satellite media campaigns promised disgruntled young Iranians an imminent revolution leading to ___________ (each left to fill the blank with their preferred utopia). By all means necessary, preached the hosts of US, European or Saudi-funded satellite TV stations. Kill or get killed circulated in the moderate rebels' social media. Swapped my headscarf for a kalashnikov, invited The Times. It's not unethical to kill police, it's unethical to not kill them, lectured a guest of the weekly Iran International show Farda.

At around 9 PM on November 16, one such episode of rioting took place in the Khane Isfahan northwest neighborhood of Isfahan, a historical city some 450 km south of Tehran. A group of security forces composed of police and basij volunteers stationed in the streets took the brunt of machine-gun fire from a gang of motorcycles. That gang of nine people included the so-called footballer Amir Reza Nasr-Azadani, and resulted in the direct martyrdom of two basij volunteers: Mohsen Hamidi (54) and Mohammad Hossein Karimi (30). Esmail Cheraghi would later succumb to his injuries. 


The streets of Iran washed in blood, mission accomplished for the agitators from abroad. The plot far from an improvised confrontation of the moment seemed to have been carefully coordinated with a simultaneous attack in the city of Izeh, West of Isfahan, which shared the exact modus operandi: a motorcycle gang machine-guns a position of security forces.

Why is the actual turn of events involving an armed motorcycle gang machine-gunning security forces not mentioned in the globally distributed pamphlet on Nasr-Azadani's case not laid out in detail to the international audiences is something one can let the reader to decide.

Fans of extrajudicial killings

Far from shocked at the turn of events, riot supporters took to social media and their satellite TV platforms to congratulate the "people of Iran" for the loss of life in the Isfahan and Izeh attacks. Way to go (Damet garm) cheers sprung on Instagram.

The euphoria at the perceived victories switched full-mode into conspiracy theories, when the advocates of extrajudicial killings realized that one of the victims of the Izeh attack was a 9 year-old bystander, Kian Pirfalak. In Isfahan it was heroes who did it. In Izeh it was all of a sudden the Islamic Republic itself to blame for a false flag attack. 

Selective outrage

A mere weeks after the spread of the "Iranian footballer sentenced to death for supporting women" story, an actual football player in Palestine, 23 year-old Ahmad Daraghmeh, was summarily executed by the Israeli regime during a raid in Nablus, occupied West Bank. Daraghmeh reportedly played for the West Bank Premier League club Thaqafi Tulkarem.

Needless to say, Daraghmeh's story did not enjoy the global spread of Nasr-Azadani's, just like the well-documented killing of Shireen Abu Akleh by the apartheid regime of Tel-Aviv elicited a very different reaction from Western regimes compared to the unfortunate death of Mahsa Amini in Iran. For Reuters and the rest of them, Daraghmeh registers in their headlines as a Palestinian fighter, not as a footballer who stands by a comprehensible cause, even less such a glamorous one as [some] women of Iran or protests in Iran.

This leaves one to conclude that the movement of Western outrage cares not about objective facts, but only about the narrative style and aesthetics of its preferred storyteller.