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British-Iranian woman jailed for volleyball watching on hunger strike

25-year-old Ghoncheh Ghavami, reportedly sentenced to a year in prison, has refused solid foods and liquids since Saturday
Ghonceh Ghavami was detained in June after watching a volleyball match in Tehran (Twitter/@LotteLeicht1)

A 25-year-old Iranian-British law school graduate, sentenced to a year in jail after trying to attend a men's volleyball game in Tehran, has reportedly launched a hunger strike from an Iranian prison.

Ghoncheh Ghavami was detained in June while watching an Iran-Italy volleyball match at Tehran's Fredoom Stadium. She was later released, but re-arrested and put on trial.

On Sunday, the court said it would sentence Ghavami to a year in prison, according to her lawyer, although members of her family have since told journalists that the court has not yet formalised the verdict.

Ahead of her trial, Ghavami reportedly began the hunger strike, refusing solid foods and liquids, her brother, Iman Ghavami, told The Guardian

Iran banned women from volleyball games in 2012, extending a long-standing ban on football matches. The Iranian government argues that women need protection from the lewd behaviour of male fans.

Ghavami along with a group of other women tried to protest the ban according to Amnesty International, which said the verdict was “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.

“Ghoncheh is a prisoner of conscience and the Iranian authorities should quash the sentence and release her immediately and unconditionally.”

However Iran's judiciary spokesman, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, has denied this and criticised reports linking Ghavami's arrest to volleyball. "Her case has nothing to do with sports,” he said last month.

There have also been concerns regarding Ghoncheh’s treatment while in custody, who has been reportedly beaten and held in solitary confinement.

Ghavami, from Shephards’s Bush in West London and a graduate of the University of London’s School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS), had been volunteering to help street kids in Iran for a few months, according to her brother.

Her brother said the family had been hoping she would be set free based on time already served since her June arrest.

"We're disappointed and kind of shocked. We really hoped she'd be released," he told The Associated Press.

More than 700,000 have signed an online petition which her brother started, urging the Iranian government to release her.  

Iran’s human rights record has been under scrutiny with several reports about discrimination against women reaching headlines.

Last week, 26-year-old Reyhaneh Jabbari was hanged for stabbing a man she alleges had sexually assaulted her. Jabbari had been detained since 2007.

In October, an award-winning human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotodeh was reportedly barred from practice for three years after being released half-way through a six-year sentence for “actions against national security and committing propaganda against the regime.”

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