A Tehran court has jailed for one year a British-Iranian woman who was arrested after trying to attend a volleyball match, a decision that left her family in shock Sunday.
The case of Ghoncheh Ghavami, a 25-year-old law graduate from London, has drawn considerable attention because of her dual nationality and lengthy time in prison before trial. Britain said it was concerned after hearing reports of her jail sentence.
Ghavami was detained on June 20 at Azadi ("Freedom" in Farsi) Stadium where Iran\’s national volleyball team was to play Italy, after female fans and even women journalists were told they would not be allowed to attend, leading to a brief demonstration.
Women are also banned from football matches in Iran, with officials saying this is to protect them from lewd behaviour among male fans.
Ghavami was originally released after a few hours but was rearrested days later at a police station she had visited to reclaim items confiscated from her near the stadium in Tehran.
Having been in custody since — at least 41 days of which was spent in solitary confinement, according to her family — Ghavami went on trial behind closed doors last month.
"According to the verdict she was sentenced to one year in jail," her lawyer Alizadeh Tabatabaie, who has not been allowed to visit his client, was quoted in Iranian media as saying on Sunday.
No reason was given for her conviction, though Ghavami was accused of spreading propaganda against the regime, a broad charge often used by Iran\’s judiciary.
In separate comments, the convicted woman\’s brother said the judge had said the sentence contained an additional two-year-ban on his sister leaving the country.
"We are really shocked because we were really hoping she would get the sentence as time served," Iman Ghavami said, noting that his parents were in Iran meeting officials although they have not yet been issued with the official judgment.
"There is a huge amount of abnormality in this case. The next step is to make sure the sentence is what it is and whether the court is going to apply any leniency," he added.
The family is also in contact with Britain\’s Foreign Office, which issued a statement that said it had worries about the court\’s ruling, as well as the "grounds for this prosecution, due process during the trial and Miss Ghavami\’s treatment while in custody".
Britain currently has no diplomatic presence in Tehran, but recently said that it intends to reopen its embassy in the Iranian capital soon.
Amnesty International dubbed the jail sentence "appalling".
"It\’s an outrage that a young woman is being locked up simply for peacefully having her say about how women are discriminated against in Iran," said Kate Allen, the rights group\’s director for Britain.
So far, Ghavami has spent 127 days in the capital\’s notorious Evin prison. Last month she went on hunger strike for a fortnight in protest at the conditions there.
A Facebook page where her friends and family have campaigned for her release features photographs of her against the slogan: "Jailed for wanting to watch a volleyball match".
Officials, however, have said Ghavami was detained for security reasons unrelated to the sporting event.
British Prime Minister David Cameron raised Ghavami\’s detention during a meeting with Iran\’s President Hassan Rouhani in September at the UN General Assembly in New York.
Cameron underlined "the impact that such cases had on Iran\’s image in the UK", a Downing Street spokesman said at the time.
The verdict also comes with Iran under international pressure over its human rights record.
When Rouhani, a moderate elected last year, has been questioned about a soaring number of executions and detentions under his rule, he has said the judiciary is independent of his government.
However, diplomats at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week voiced alarm at the situation of political prisoners, women and religious minorities in Iran.
They also decried arrests and harassment of journalists, forced confessions and lack of access to fair trials.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran\’s High Council for Human Rights, responded by saying his country had made great progress in the past four years.