Family of woman jailed in Iran for watching volleyball match seeks help to free her

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Family of woman jailed in Iran for watching volleyball match seeks help to free her

The brother of a woman who has been imprisoned in Iran since June for attending a men's volleyball match is urging the British government to help free her.

Ghoncheh Ghavami, a 25-year-old dual citizen of Britain and Iran, was arrested on June 20 along with more than a dozen other women as they tried to enter a stadium in Tehran in protest of Iran's ban of female spectators.

Under Iran law, women are not allowed to attend men's sporting events where players are not considered to be fully dressed.

"She was there to watch a game," Iman Ghavami, Ghoncheh's brother, wrote in a letter to the Iran and U.K. governments. "She was arrested because of a misunderstanding."

According to Iman, Ghoncheh, a British law student who was in Iran working for a charity "teaching literacy to street children" and visiting family, thought women would be allowed to attend volleyball matches after Iran was warned by the International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB) about the antiquated law.

"In the current conditions, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in the public interest," Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam, Iran's head of police, told the Fars News Agency. "The stance taken by religious scholars and the supreme leader remains unchanged, and as the enforcer of law, we cannot allow women to enter stadiums."

After her initial arrest, Ghoncheh was detained for several hours and released, according to Amnesty International. But she was rearrested at her parents' home on June 30 and taken to prison, where she spent the first 41 days in solitary confinement.

"She is a prisoner of conscience, arrested solely for taking part in a peaceful protest against the ban on women," the organization said in a press release calling on Iranian officials to free Ghavami. "During her prolonged solitary confinement, the interrogators put her under psychological pressure."

She has yet to be formally charged, the group said, but is being held on suspicion of “propaganda against the state."

A Change.org petition urging the British government to get involved has gathered more than 50,000 signatures.

"I spoke to the [U.K.] Foreign Office about a week ago," Iman Ghavami told the Telegraph on Thursday. "They said that they would send a diplomatic note to the Iranian government and wait for a response – but we haven't heard anything yet."

He added: "My parents visited her yesterday and they are at breaking point."

"I was feeling devastated when I walked out those doors without you, but I told myself that both you and I should resist," Ghoncheh's mother wrote to her in letter later posted by Iman to Facebook. "Just as you have endured all this hardship in these 77 days and still are defending your rights."

She added: "I know that with such a kind heart and a determined will you will pass these difficult days through."

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