Former SOAS law student thrown in Iranian jail for trying to watch the chaps play volleyball

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By Judge John Hack on

Facebook protest campaign takes off in bid to free SOAS law graduate, who has already spent weeks in solitary confinement for breaching draconian interpretation of Islamic law


A law graduate from London has found herself on the harsh end of Iran’s intrepretation of Islamic justice — she’s been thrown in the nick for more than 40 days after comitting the crime of attempting to watch a men’s volleyball match.

The plight of Ghonche Ghavami, 25, a dual UK-Iran citizen, who gained a law degree two years ago from London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), has triggered a Facebook petition of protest that has garnered more than 9,000 signatures.

According to the Facebook page of SOAS’s Iranian Society, Ghavami has already spent more than 40 days in solitary confinement as she awaits a full hearing regarding her alleged offence.

Tehran police arrested her last June as she and a group of other women attempted to watch an international volleyball match between the men’s sides of Iran and Italy. Iranian women are barred from stadiums under the ruling regime’s interpretation of Islamic law.

The group protested when they were refused entrance and police arrested them before initially granting conditional bail the same day.

However, when Ghavami returned to the police station 10 days later to collect personal belongs that had been confiscated, she was re-arrested and banged up in the country’s notorious Evin Prison (pictured below), which, according to The Independent newspaper, normally houses political prisoners such as dissident journalists. The SOAS Facebook page also claims that Iran’s security services raided Ghavami’s home.


According to The Independent, the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office was aware of reports of Ghavami’s imprisonment. An official told the newspaper that the FCO was assessing the situation, but also cautioned that the UK government’s diplomatic powers and influence with the Iranian regime were limited at best.

Ghavami and her fellow activists were protesting against a law introduced immediately following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. The legislation stipulates that women are not allowed to attend sporting events where men are not considered fully dressed, as doing so was deemed un-Islamic.

The Independent cited the local Fars news agency as quoting Iran’s head of police, Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam. He said:

“In the current conditions, the mixing of men and women in stadiums is not in the public interest. 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.”