When Ghoncheh Ghavami decided to take a stand this past June to protest Iran’s ban on women attending volleyball games, she likely did not figure she’d spend the rest of the summer and fall sitting in a miserable prison cell. Ms. Ghavami, who just turned 26, surely also did not predict that her call for equality would generate hundreds of thousands of supportive voices from around the world.
The outpouring of support for this brave young woman has truly been extraordinary and I do believe, although cannot prove it, that the outrage at her imprisonment, expressed by so many thousands of people around the world—including many Amnesty International activists—contributed to the Iranian government’s decision to release her on bail on Sunday, pending the outcome of her appeal against her one-year prison sentence (plus two-year travel ban) for “spreading propaganda against the system.”
But the happy news of her release—she is reportedly in poor health because of her ordeal (she was kept in solitary confinement for extended periods of time and had recently been transferred to Gharchak, a particularly harsh prison) and the hunger strikes she undertook to protest her treatment—is tempered first of all by the fact that her legal situation remains unresolved, and also because there are dozens of other prisoners of conscience suffering in Iranian prisons who have been accused of the same nebulous charges. These include journalists, bloggers, film-makers, trade union activists and human rights attorneys.
Documentary filmmaker and women’s rights activist Mahnaz Mohammadi is serving a five-year sentence in Evin Prison. A Revolutionary Court handed down the sentence on the charges of “gathering and colluding to commit crimes against national security” and “spreading propaganda against the system.” Her “crime”? She was convicted for her alleged cooperation with BBC Persian and other foreign-based media organizations, demonized by hard-liners in Iran’s ruling establishment, as well as her role in the making of a documentary film called ‘We Are Half of the Iranian Population’ about women’s rights demands in the lead-up to the 2009 presidential election.
While activists have reason to be gratified that Ghoncheh Ghavami is no longer in prison, we still must remind the Iranian government that we call for all charges to be dropped against her. The Iranian government must immediately stop imprisoning its citizens for exercising their rights—guaranteed under international law—to peacefully gather with others and to peacefully express their opinion. The idea that Ghoncheh Ghavami’s participation in a peaceful action to protest the exclusion of women from sporting events is somehow a threat to national security warranting harsh punishment is utterly preposterous. It is equally preposterous that Mahnaz Mohammadi and so many others languish in prison as well. Please add your voice to those calling for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Iran.