The family of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran have spoken of their anguish after the state’s judiciary claimed she was detained for her supposed links to the opposition – not for trying to attend a volleyball match.
Ghoncheh Ghavami, a 25-year-old law graduate from London, was accused by Tehran prosecutors in a statement reported by the semi-official ISNA news agency of being involved in opposition protests.
The latest twist came as Ghavami’s family were left without legal representation after their lawyer resigned following a series of bizarre interviews to local media about the case. “It’s stressful for us,” said Ghavami’s brother, Iman, 28, from London. “Every day is a new challenge for my parents – it’s so stressful and time consuming.”
Ghavami, a graduate of SOAS, University of London, has been detained in Iran since 20 June when she was arrested at Azadi (“freedom” in Farsi) stadium in Tehran, where Iran’s national volleyball team was scheduled to play Italy. Although she was released within a few hours after the initial arrest she was rearrested days later.
Earlier this month, the family were told she had been sentenced to one year in the notorious Evin prison after being found guilty in a secret revolutionary court of spreading “propaganda against the regime”.
On Tuesday, the prosecutor’s office in Tehran told ISNA that her case was still under review and did not refer to any conviction for Ghavami.
Speaking to the Guardian from London, Iman said the family were “surprised” that she was accused of having links to opposition groups.
“She never had anything to do with the opposition really,” he said. “You could question why they are trying to take the volleyball out of the equation. They are insisting it doesn’t have anything to do with the case but she has insisted that she was arrested because of trying to attend the volleyball and her dual citizenship.
“She has said that most of the questions during interrogation were about the volleyball match. When my parents met her for the first time in prison she said the interrogation was about trying to attend the volleyball match.”
Iman said his family were looking for legal representation for Ghavami after their lawyer handed in his resignation without notice on Monday. He had given a series of “incoherent and strange” interviews to local media in Iran without Ghavami’s parents’ permission, Iman said. “It’s so stressful for us. It’s just unreal that it’s happening at all and the fact that something new happens every day is so challenging,” he added.
Ghavami has twice gone on hunger strike in protest at her detention – this month and in early October. Her arrest has drawn condemnation from the highest political level. David Cameron underlined his concerns in a meeting with Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, in September at the UN general assembly in New York.
A petition on the site Change.org started by Iman has amassed more than 725,000 signatures calling for Ghavami’s release.