The 29-year old Sahar Khodayari wasn’t asking for much. All she wanted was the opportunity millions of people all over the world take for granted. She wanted to watch her favorite soccer team, Iran’s Esteghlal, playing live. She wanted to sit in the stadium and enjoy the crowd.
She tried to sneak into the stadium in Iran, her face painted Esteghlal blue. Instead of attending the game, she found herself under arrest, facing prison time for daring to attend.
In September 2019, Khodayari, also known as the Blue Girl, faced a prison sentence for sneaking into a soccer match. On the day of her trial, the judge had a family emergency. According to IranWire, she was told that she would likely receive a sentence of six months to a year. Overcome, she set herself on fire. On September 10, 2019 Khodayari died of her burns.
Arseh Sevom joins others in mourning her death. We strongly protest the arrest and harsh sentences faced by activists in the Islamic Republic of Iran. There is a clear pattern of meting out harsh punishments to women who defy restrictions on attendance at sporting events or protest the hijab.
The Arseh Sevom team includes several people who have experienced the prison system and harsh interrogations of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Executive Director Kamran Ashtary says:
“Go to prison in the Islamic Republic of Iran for two days, and you’re screwed up for twenty years.”
The tactics used by the Islamic Republic of Iran include psychological torture and systematically denying healthcare to imprisoned activists. In some cases, even a short term in prison can lead to long term social and economic problems. Activists may find themselves ostracized from the community and unable to continue education or find work after being arrested.
Ending the restrictions on women’s participation in society is long overdue. When women thrive, Iran will too.