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Former student detained in Iran over women’s rights protest

Tom King, BA Politics 

A former SOAS student has been arrested and detained in Iran after attending a protest against the country’s restrictions on women attending sporting events.


Ghoncheh Ghavami, who studied law at SOAS, was arrested outside the Azadi Stadium with more than a dozen other women when they attempted to watch a men’s volleyball match between Iran and Italy on June 20th.


It is reported that Ghavami spent as long as 41 days in solitary confinement at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, but has now been transferred to a cell shared with another inmate.

41 days in solitary confinement

Ghavami was initially released by authorities on bail with the condition that she did not return to the stadium and her belongings were confiscated. On presenting herself at the Vozarra Detention Centre ten days later to collect her possessions, she was rearrested and transferred to Evin Prison, which is renowned for holding protesters, journalists and political prisoners. On the same day her home was searched by security forces and her laptop and books removed.

“Ghoncheh is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately.”

Amnesty International have repeatedly raised concerns about the ill-treatment and torture of detainees held in Evin Prison and have said “Ghoncheh is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately.” They say that during her time in solitary confinement Ghavami says “interrogators put her under psychological pressure, threatening to move her to Gharchak Prison…where prisoners convicted of serious criminal offences are held in dismal conditions, and telling her that she ‘would not walk out of prison alive’.”

Threats she ‘would not walk out of prison alive’

Amnesty states that Ghavami is yet to be formally charged with an offence but is under investigation for “propaganda against the state” for her involvement in the Azadi Stadium protest. SOAS Iranian Society has said that despite having been held for more than two months, officials have indicated that she could face another two months in detention before her case is heard. Although, it is believed that a challenge to this extended detention was made on 1st September and is now being reviewed by Branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.


A statement released by the Students’ Union said “We wish to express our deepest sympathies and solidarity with Ghoncheh and her loved ones, and our support for her brave action in defence of women’s rights and civil liberties.”


Ghavami holds both Iranian and British citizenship and the UK Foreign Office says it is “aware of reports of a dual British-Iranian national imprisoned in Iran, and [is] looking into them”. However, it is unlikely that the British government will be able to intervene as it does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.
A social media campaign has been launched to support the release of Ghavami with the Facebook page receiving more than 10,000 likes and the hashtag #FreeGhonchehGhavami trending on Twitter.

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