Iran: Activist Attempts to Watch Volleyball, Sent to Brutal Prison

Ghoncheh Ghavami, the British-Iranian citizen arrested for attempting to view a volleyball game in Iran, has been sentenced to one year imprisonment by the Iranian authorities.

According to her lawyer, a court on Sunday found the 25 year old Ghoncheh Ghavami guilty of "propagating against the ruling system." She was originally detained in June along with a group of women who were protesting an Iranian law which forbids women from watching men play volleyball. A similar law banning women from watching male soccer matches was instituted after the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. In 2012, the law was extended to include volleyball games.  

This sentence follows swiftly on the heels of the execution of Reyhanneh Jabbari (aged 26) who was hanged for murder last Saturday after stabbing her would-be-rapist. The Iranian regime refused to investigate claims that Jabbari had acted in self-defense, accusing her of fabricating the rape charge. The execution sparked widespread international condemnation. Amnesty International called the execution "a bloody stain on Iran's human rights record."

Ghoncheh Ghavami has been held in Iran's notorious Evin Prison for 126 days. A statement released by the British Foreign Office read "We have concerns about the grounds for this prosecution, due process during the trial, and Miss Ghavami's treatment whilst in custody." At the beginning of October she went on a 14 day hunger strike in a protest against her conditions.  

Other famous political dissidents and civil rights activists have been detained (and abused) at Evin Prison. In April a violent raid on section 350 of the prison, where the political inmates are kept, was carried out by the guards. The search was unscheduled, but when the prisoners objected, the police, equipped with full riot gear, responded with extreme violence.

At the time of the raid, Reporters Without Borders Iran-Afghanstan desk head Reza Moini said "The violence used against these prisoners was gratuitous and cowardly, and was clearly designed to punish heroes who have continued to resist despite having suffered years of oppression. This is also a warning to Iranian civil society, which keeps on demanding more freedom and democracy."

This is in keeping with the Iranian regime's policy on how to deal with dissent. According to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, during the 2009 Green Movement protests "rape was routinely practiced [by the police] as a matter of policy to intimidate young ordinary people from ever coming out to protest again."

The human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated rapidly since the beginning of President Rouhani's term in office. He was widely regarded as a moderate and is still seen a centrist who can command a consensus between conservatives and reformists, unlike his predecessor the divisive firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet executions have risen by 45% since he took office. The numbers of prisoners of conscience has soared, as minority rights and freedom of expression activists have been jailed.

The imprisonment of Ghoncheh Ghavami is the latest example of what appears to be the tightening of a totalitarian political and cultural system that will brook no opposition.

For more information on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Iran please see Clarion Project's Factsheet: Human Rights in Iran.

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