British-Iranian woman Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, was sentenced to a year in prison today. The crime? Trying to watch a men’s volleyball game. The University of London’s SOAS alumni was in Iran in 2014 while working for a charity to teach street children to read and write. Her trial began last month despite a prolonged incarceration beforehand, much of which was in solitary confinement.
On June 20th of this year, Ghavami and fellow activists were detained when trying to enter Azadi Stadium in Tehran. The women’s rights group was protesting for equal access to sporting events for women. Ghavami and the others were originally released, but ten days later she was re-arrested.
Since her arrest, social media has blown up with demands from the international community and Amnesty International for her release. Iran has declared that Ghavami’s arrest had nothing to do with the stadium and is instead because of her vocal work against the regime or “propaganda against the Iranian government.” While awaiting a verdict, Ghavami started a ‘wet’ hunger strike, where she refused all physical foods, on October 1st because of her lack of access to a lawyer.
Iman Ghavami, the women’s brother, told the Associated Press that he was “disappointed” at the verdict. The family is trying to obtain the verdict’s official details, and their hopes rest on her time served before arrest and leniency for good behavior.
The ban on women sports spectators originally only applied to football matches, and was established in 1979 with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Security Department of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs extended this ban to volleyball matches in 2012.
The Iranian government has argued that female sports fans are not allowed to watch sporting events because the danger and “lewd behavior” they might incur from male fans and that the law is for the women’s “protection.”
Iran sees all dual nationals as Iranians and so does not acknowledge dual citizenship. The British government does not currently have a political presence in Iran but is hoping to re-open the embassy soon. The British Foreign Office has expressed concern about Ghavami’s treatment and grounds for prosecution.