A British woman being held in a “notorious” Iranian jail has gone on hunger strike to mark 100 days of imprisonment. Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, was a law student at SOAS visiting family in Iran when she was arrested for attending a men-only volleyball match last June.
She has spent most of her incarceration so far in solitary confinement, and was only charged after nearly three months in jail. She still has no clue as to when she might be tried or released.
Ghavami, a duel British-Iranian citizen was arrested along with a dozen other women on June 20th for attempting to enter the Azadi stadium where the Iranian national men’s volleyball team were due to play Italy. She was at first released from custody, but when she returned to the police station ten days later to collect her belongings, her dual citizenship came to light and she was incarcerated in Tehran’s Evin jail, known for holding political prisoners and journalists.
She spent nearly 50 days in solitary confinement before being moved into a cell with one other woman, and was finally charged in September with “propaganda against the regime”, a charge that her brother has described as “ambiguous”. Her case will be heard by Tehran’s revolutionary court.
Speaking to the Telegraph in September, her brother Iman said “The prison is notorious. Ghoncheh is in the worst part of it and has been interrogated repeatedly [without a lawyer being present]. It’s the worst place you can be. It’s like something you see in the movies. The psychological conditions are awful. I’ve only seen one photo of it but my parents visited her yesterday and they are at breaking point.
“My mother had to leave the visitor’s room and vomited so many times outside that she nearly passed out.
“My sister is very distressed as she has gained the impression from her interrogators that she may have to stay for a long time.
“There are still no formal charges against her and it’s the not knowing which is so hard; the hopelessness. It can break you.”
October 1 marked 100 days of imprisonment for Ghoncheh, prompting her to go on hunger strike. Her mother Susan Moshtaghian has also decided to go on hunger strike in protest against the Iranian authorities, as she is worried about her daughter’s condition.
“I am extremely concerned about Ghoncheh’s health and life. I hold [the] authorities fully responsible for any harm inflicted on my daughter,” she told the Guardian, adding: “‘She told me she has been on hunger strike since 1 October as objection to her uncertain conditions and 100 days of temporary custody with no basis.
“I am restless since I heard about this and I have also gone on hunger strike. I stayed silent for 82 days in the hope that my daughter comes back home safely. Now I am worried about her life and will not stop until she’s free.”
In September the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was in New York for the UN summit, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “According to our laws [she is an Iranian citizen] only, we do not accept dual citizenship, but the bottom line is our aim is for the laws to be respected every step of the way.”
The law preventing women from entering sports stadia was introduced after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The new regime deemed mixed crowds ‘un-Islamic’ as the sportsmen are not considered to be fully dressed.
“In the current conditions, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in the public interest,” Iran’s head of police Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam said, according to 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.”
A petition on Change.org started by Iman Ghavami has reached nearly 530,000 signatures. He writes “Ghoncheh was in Iran for a few months to work for a charity teaching literacy to street children and see our family. She thought women would be allowed to attend World League volleyball matches after Iran was warned about the matter by International Federation of Volleyball (FIVB).
“I’m a distressed brother who is fighting to bring her sister home. My sister is a law student in University of London. She should not have been arrested in the first place and does not deserve to be in solitary.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth spokesman has said: “We are concerned about the detention of Miss Ghoncheh Ghavami, a dual British-Iranian national in Iran.
“We are in touch with her family. We have raised our concerns with the Iranian government and asked for more information about her welfare and the charges against her.”
However, the British government has little influence in Tehran as it has no permanent diplomatic presence there. The British Embassy was stormed and looted in December 2011 by pro-regime forces, at which point the mission was shut down and all staff evacuated. Although an agreement has been reached to re-open it, action has not yet been taken to do so. Ajay Sharma, the British diplomat in charge of Iranian relations, is based in London.