Iran coordinated with Qatar to suppress opposition at World Cup

Iranian opposition journalists and people carrying symbols supporting protests were prevented from entering the games in Qatar.

 A woman wearing a facemask with a message reading 'stop killing us' after the Wales v Iran match (photo credit: REUTERS/CHARLOTTE BRUNEAU)
A woman wearing a facemask with a message reading 'stop killing us' after the Wales v Iran match

Iranian authorities worked with Qatar to suppress any anti-regime expressions at the ongoing FIFA World Cup in the Gulf state, according to documents leaked by the Black Reward hacktivist group.

The documents were seized by Black Reward after infiltrating the systems of the Fars News Network and shared with the Iran International news agency before being published on the group's Telegram channel.

Basij commander General Ghasem Ghoreyshi told a Fars news reporter in the leaked recording that Qatar had provided a list of Iranians who had bought tickets to the games, noting that 500 individuals known for anti-regime activity were on the list.

Qatar had a few deals with Iran, including one agreement to not allow the mentioned individuals into the country and another agreement to prevent Iran International from entering the country. 

Iran International announced in mid-November that Qatar had revoked the permission for its reporters and crew to cover the World Cup without providing an explanation.

 Iran fans hold a 'Women Life Freedom' Iran flag and a replica shirt in memory of Mahsa Amini, inside the stadium before the match (credit: DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS) Iran fans hold a 'Women Life Freedom' Iran flag and a replica shirt in memory of Mahsa Amini, inside the stadium before the match (credit: DYLAN MARTINEZ/REUTERS)

The Gulf state also agreed to prevent anti-regime symbols, such as the slogan "woman, freedom, life" and the old Iranian flag featuring a lion and sun which was replaced after the Islamic Revolution, according to Ghoreyshi.

Iranian fans who have attempted to bring in the lion and sun emblem or slogans from the protests sweeping Iran have been prevented from entering stadiums and even detained by police, according to Iran International.

The Basij official also noted that 15,000 tickets were sold to Israelis.

"The Qataris have a good relationship with us and their motivation is good," said Ghoreyshi, adding however that the Gulf state has promised certain things to Iran, but not delivered.

The Basij official stated that Iran attempted to convince Qatar to provide tickets for 2,000 Basij officers to go to the games, but failed to do so, although later a number of tickets were provided for Basij officers to "help" at the games.

The Basij planned to set up tents where the teams are stationed to distribute food and promotional items, Ghoreyshi said in the recording.

Fars admits its website was hacked

The Fars News Agency reported on Friday that a hacker group had "taken the Fars News Agency website out of reach for a few minutes."

"Fars News Agency is subjected to extensive and complex cyber attacks by several foreign countries, including the Zionist regime, almost every day. Fars technical group is investigating the issue and correcting it," said the agency in a tweet.

Shortly before the Fars statement, the Black Reward group published a statement with a screenshot of the hacked website calling the news agency a "sludge-spreading company."

The group warned that "spreading lies, spreading rumors, creating cases and writing and working against the people of Iran has a heavy penalty."

"Most of the black deeds of each and every official employee and unofficial collaborators of Fars Sludge Company are in our possession today with all the details and we give this warning to other ration eaters of the IRGC and Mullahs that dark and difficult days are waiting for them. We will come to you one by one."

Iranian officials instructed media on how to cover World Cup, suppress dissent

The leak included three documents besides for the recording, including two documents concerning coverage of the World Cup and one document listing network users at the news agency.

In one of the documents, media officials warned that athletes have taken action to "legitimize" the protests sweeping Iran, warning that the possibility of protest actions during the World Cup "should be taken seriously and managed with calculated mechanisms."

The media officials recommended threatening to kick players off the team for any "unprofessional behavior" or for "non-conventional actions such as not singing the anthem, interviews with anti-revolutionary media, wearing black tape, etc."

"Serious action" against recent actions by some athletes who supported the protests could be used as a "deterrent" as well, the officials noted in the leaked document.

"The officials of the Sports Ministry and the federations should put aside the appeasement mentality," read the document.

The officials recommended having any "punitive and deterrent measures" published only in "unofficial media" and kept off of official media channels.

The document also included a recommendation to keep players away from Iranians who are not supporters of the regime and that the gathering places of these people should be "followed and acted upon."

In another document called the "World Cup operation plan," the authors noted that the increase in Iranians desiring the defeat of the country's national team and a social indifference to the games shows a "change in the situation." 

The officials pointed to the possibility of slogans or banners supporting the protests at the World Cup, as well as recent support for the protesters by Iranian athletes.

The officials warned that inaction concerning the current situation and an inability to excite Iranian society about the World Cup "can lead the atmosphere towards the realization of the enemy's goals."

The officials recommended creating positive content to increase social solidarity and unity. The officials also recommended that the Foreign Ministry take the "necessary measures" through diplomatic channels to "minimize the environmental threats of the World Cup" and to demand the removal of any expression against the Iranian government.

Black Reward has conducted a series of operations against Iranian agencies

The Black Reward group has released a series of official documents it has retrieved in hacks of Iranian agencies since nationwide protests broke out in September.

Earlier this month, the group published hundreds of gigabytes of documents it retrieved from the servers of the South Pars oil projects, the IRGC-controlled Khatam-al Anbiya Construction Headquarters and the Islamic Culture and Communication Organization.

Hundreds of gigabytes of documents from Iran's nuclear energy program were also released by the group in late October.

The group first appeared in late September with a hack of the Islamic Revolution Housing Foundation.