SENIOR Tory MPs have called for Britain to open its arms to brave Iranian footballers who could face persecution when they return home from the World Cup.
The Iranian XI stood tall but silent as their national anthem played ahead of the clash with England at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha yesterday.
GettyThe Iranian national team remained silent during the national anthem before their match against England yesterday[/caption]
Iran supporters held protest signs with the rallying cries of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ and ‘Freedom For Iran’ at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha yesterdayRex
Iranian fans in the Qatari stadium were moved to tears by the incredible gesture, as massive protests continue to sweep the Islamic Republic.
But the team’s gesture could land them in serious trouble back home if the brutal Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei decides to make an example of them.
Political dissent is a crime in Iran – and is one of the offences subject to capital punishment, with 21 protesters already facing execution after sham trials since the start of an uprising in September.
This week Tory MPs have led called for the players to be offered sanctuary in the UK if they ask for it.
Former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith told The Sun: “The Iranian team may choose not to go back to Iran given what’s going.
“Our government should treat those individuals with an accelerated asylum process if that’s the case.
“Iran is a dictatorial, brutal regime.”
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Last night former minister Caroline Nokes told TalkTV’s Late Edition programme the Home Office “has to be ready” for potential asylum claims.
She said: “These young men have taken a very brave stance in the same way that young women across Iran are also being phenomenally brave.
“Perhaps we need to look at a bespoke scheme for them so that instantly we know whether there’s going to be a legal route for them into the UK or not.”
Iranian officials had already been discussing cracking down on perceived disrespect to their national anthem and flag ahead of the World Cup.
And the national team’s defiance on such an international scale will spark fury amongst the regime – and could spark retribution.
Massoud Setayeshi, spokesman for the Iran’s Judiciary, said just days ago that punishments could be meted out for those who reject the anthem.
Iranian courts have been taking a brutal line on people linked to the protests, with more than 15,000 people arrested and hundreds killed by the security forces.
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Tory MP David Simmonds, who is also Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, told The Sun: “The brave actions of the Iranian footballers who have heroically stood up to the Government means they could face persecution when they return.
“This highlights the importance of the U.K. having a strong resettlement scheme for those facing persecution.”
This morning a No10 spokesperson said they wouldn’t “speculate about what actions individuals might take”.
But they added: “We do have a proud tradition of providing refuge to those in need and equally we’ve condemned violence levelled at the protesters in Iran.”