DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The United States men’s soccer team has begun displaying Iran’s national flag on social media without the Islamic Republic’s emblem as nationwide protests against Tehran’s theocratic government continue .
The United States men’s team Twitter account displayed a banner with the team’s matches in the group stage on Sunday, with the Iranian flag wearing only its green, white and red colors. The same could be seen in a post on his Facebook and Instagram accounts outlining the point totals so far in his group.
The USA men’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the absence of the emblem comes as months-long protests have defied the Iranian government since the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.who had been detained by the country’s vice squad.
The protests have seen at least 450 people killed since they began, along with more than 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group that tracks the protests.
Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and alleges without providing evidence that the protests were fomented by its enemies abroad, including the United States.
Tehran is also restricting press access and has detained more than 63 journalists and photographers since the protests began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making coverage of the unrest all the more difficult.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations and its football federation did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iranian state media had yet to acknowledge the lack of the emblem on the U.S. men’s team accounts, although comments raged online.
The emblem of the Islamic Republic, designed in 1980, is made up of four curves with a sword between them. It represents the Islamic saying: “There is no god but God”. It also looks like a tulip or a lotus.
At the top and bottom of the flag there are also 22 inscriptions of “God is great”, which honors the date in the Persian calendar when the Islamic revolution took hold.
The flag has become a point of contention at the World Cup. Apparent pro-government supporters waved it, shouting at those protesting over Amini’s death. Others at matches waved Iran’s lion and sun flag, the emblem of its former leader, the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
More security forces could be seen in Iran’s last game against Wales. In the capital Tehran, riot police – the same police cracking down on protests – waved the Iranian flag after Wales’ victory, angering protesters.
Team Melli will face USA on Tuesday.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.