Iran: British woman detained for taking part in volleyball protest should be released

Interrogators have warned that Ghoncheh Ghavami ‘would not walk out of prison alive’
 
Amnesty is calling for the release of a 25-year-old Iranian-British woman who is being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison after being arrested for taking part in a peaceful protest against a ban on women in Iran attending sporting events in public stadiums.
 
Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested on 30 June after taking part in a protest - along with dozens of other women and men - ten days earlier at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium where an Iran-Italy Volleyball World League match was taking place. 
 
Ghavami has said that during her prolonged solitary confinement interrogators put her under severe psychological pressure, threatening to move her to Gharchak Prison in the Tehran Province where prisoners convicted of serious criminal offences are held in dismal conditions. Interrogators warned she “would not walk out of prison alive”. 
 
Amnesty understands that Ghavami has not been formally charged but remains under investigation for “propaganda against the state”, stemming from her involvement in peaceful activities to end discrimination against women. On 1 September she reportedly challenged the decision of the prosecutor to extend her detention for another two months, which is now being examined by Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court. 
 
Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs Allan Hogarth said:
 
“We’re extremely worried about Ghoncheh’s predicament.
 
“Ghoncheh is a prisoner of conscience and her treatment at the hands of the Iranian authorities has been appalling.  
 
“Rather than apparently making none-too-veiled threats against her life, the authorities should release Ghoncheh immediately.”
 

Violent initial arrest and re-arrest

According to activists and journalists who were present, the police used excessive force including beatings to disperse the protesters, arresting several of them, including Ghavami. Eyewitnesses said the women arrested were forced into police vans, taken to Vozara Detention Centre in Tehran and held there for several hours, during which police officers insulted and verbally abused them. They were apparently released after surrendering identification documents and signing pledges not to engage in similar activities in future. After her release, Ghavami told a friend that during her arrest she was slapped and dragged along the ground, which left her with bruises on her elbow and back.
 
Ghavami was arrested for a second time when she attempted to retrieve her mobile phone from the authorities on 30 June. Plainclothed agents also confiscated her laptop and books from Ghavami’s house before taking her to Section 2A of Evin Prison, where she was kept in solitary confinement, without access to her family or lawyer for 41 days, before being transferred to a cell shared with another inmate. 
 

Ban on female spectators

Iran has imposed a ban on women watching football games in stadiums since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. In 2012, the Security Department of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs extended the ban to volleyball matches. Iranian officials have said the mixing of women and men in sport stadiums is not in the public interest and claim the ban on Iranian women is for their own benefit, with women needing protection from the lewd behaviour of male fans.  
 
The ban became a subject of public controversy during this year’s International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB) World League games, in which Iran was selected to play Italy, Brazil and Poland between May and July. At the first game between Iran and Brazil on 13 June, Iranian women were prevented from entering Tehran’s Azadi stadium in Tehran, while Brazilian women were allowed to enter to cheer their national volleyball team.
 

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