An award-winning photojournalist was arrested for disguising herself as a man to enter a football stadium to circumvent the country’s ban on women from attending matches.
Forough Alaei won the prestigious World Press Photo award 2019 for her work depicting impassioned female supporters attempting to watch live football matches in Iran.
One of the prize winning images shows a woman having a fake beard applied and in another she is seen watching a game in a Tehran stadium surrounded by male supporters. Ms Alaei was recognised for her “passion giving a voice to her subjects in Iran”.
Alaei was among six known to have been detained this week, including Zahra Khoshnavaz, another prominent women's rights activist.
According to reports from Iran, the arrested individuals, locally known as “The Liberation Girls”, have been transferred to the notorious Gharchak prison in the religious town of Varamin in the suburb of Tehran.
Human Rights Watch has called for their “immediate and unconditional” release.
“Iranian women should not be spending a second in prison because authorities accuse them of peacefully attempting to defy a ridiculous ban that denies women and girls equal rights to attend a football match,” Minky Worden director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch said.
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 Iranian women have been banned from attending football stadiums as the clerical regime regards watching men playing football in shorts “promoting promiscuity”.
“The attendance of women at football stadiums would only create social ills and has no religious justification as it leads to sinful acts. We will deal with full force against those who want to break this rule”, cleric Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Iran’s Public Prosecutor has told Mehr news agency.
��شش دختر آزادی در زندان قرچک ورامین— Bidarzani (@Bidarzani) August 16, 2019
روز دوشنبه، تعدادی از «دختران آزادی» توسط اطلاعات سپاه بازداشت شدهاند. «زهرا خوشنواز»، «لیلی ملکی»، «هدیه مروستی» و «فروغ علایی»، از جمله بازداشت شدگانی هستند که جرم آنها تلاش برای ورود زنان به ورزشگاههای ایران تعریف شده است. pic.twitter.com/5wvsInt7nT
However, in recent years and with the arrival of a younger generation that seeks greater social freedoms, Iranian women have been entering football stadiums dressed in suits and affixing fake moustache on their faces to bypass the strict security forces at their entrances.
The six arrested girls had used the same disguise last February to attend Azadi stadium where their favourite team Persepolis was receiving the winning cup in Iran’s super league.
Iranian women’s rights activists have long been campaigning for freedom of entering sport stadiums and in recent years they have been allowed to attend volleyball matches only if accompanied by their spouses and sit in designated areas.
In the past the International Football Federation (FIFA) has raised the issue with Iranian authorities on several occasions but the clerical regime has defended its position by arguing that the decision is based on its “religious values”.
In a letter to the head of Iran's Football Federation in June the president of FIFA demanded to be informed of the "concrete steps" the Iranian government would be taking to lift its ban on women entering stadiums by September.