Photo: Courtesy of Ghavami Family.
On June 20th, Ghoncheh Ghavami was arrested and placed in solitary confinement, where she remained for 41 days without being charged. Police invaded her family's home and confiscated her computer and belongings. She was denied any visitation and access to her lawyer. Her crime: attending a volleyball match.
Ghavami's brother, Iman, brought attention to her cause with a recent Change.org petition and the hashtag #FreeGhonchehGhavami. Ghoncheh, a law student at the University of London, has dual citizenship in the UK and Iran. "She was in Iran for a few months to work for a charity teaching literacy to street children and to see our family," says Iman. While there, she attended the men's volleyball match in Tehran. The country has a longstanding ban against mixed gender crowds at sporting events but had reportedly come to an agreement with the International Federation of Volleyball in regards to female attendance of this particular match. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has himself lobbied to lift the ban, despite resistance. Ghoncheh was one of many men and women who showed up at Azadi Stadium both to watch Iran face off against Italy and to protest ongoing gender segregation in such arenas. Agreement or no, she was then beaten and physically dragged away by police.
Amnesty International reports that Ghoncheh has been subjected to intense psychological pressure and prolonged interrogations, though it's clear she had no criminal intent in attending the match. "They told her she 'would not walk out of prison alive,'" claims the human rights organization. After 86 days in Tehran's Evin Prison, last week she was formally charged with "propaganda against the regime."
That same week, six other Iranians were sentenced for shooting a video based on Pharrell's "Happy." They face 91 lashes and up to a year in prison for violating the same laws regarding female modesty and gender mixing. Ghoncheh is as likely to face a severe punishment, though thousands have taken up her cause online.
Iman continues to draw attention to his sister's case, delivering his petition to the UN, and urging UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to speak up on her behalf. "We know that the UK Government has the power to do more to help Ghoncheh," he insists, urging more people to sign the petition. "Every signature and share will bring my sister closer to home." Whether or not it's been effective, Ghoncheh and her family have little other recourse at this point. Attorneys have been denied access to her case file, and contact with Ghoncheh is severely limited by authorities at Evin Prison.
Hadi Ghaemi, director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says Iman's insistence on going public may be helpful for ensuring his sister's freedom, and a step toward progress in the country. By exposing Ghoncheh's plight, he addresses that of hundreds of her fellow Iranians. "[The family] is obligated to reveal the truth of what they know about the detention so that the officials who are detaining them know that there is a light being shined on their actions.”