Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Iran on August 16 to release women detained for allegedly dressing as men to circumvent a ban on women attending football matches.
Reports say six women have been detained since August 12, including Zahra Khoshnavaz, a prominent advocate for ending the ban on women attending public sporting events, and Forough Alaei, an award-winning photojournalist who documented women who defy the ban by disguising as men to be able to attend football matches.
“Iranian women should not be spending a second in prison because authorities accuse them of peacefully attempting to defy a ridiculous ban that denies women and girls equal rights to attend a football match,” Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement published on August 16.
“Iran should immediately and unconditionally release the women and lift the discriminatory ban on women attending sports matches,” Worden added.
Human Rights Watch said the women have been transferred to Qarchak prison south of the capital, Tehran, where activists have reported poor hygiene and safety conditions.
The arrests comes amid a June warning by football's world governing body, FIFA, to Iran that it must take concrete steps to allow women in stadiums or else face sanctions.
Iranian authorities claim women are banned from entering stadiums to prevent their exposure to swearing and cursing by male fans.
Critics have blasted the ban as discrimination against women.
The ban has been lifted occasionally for select groups of female spectators.
“FIFA has clear rules that require members to allow women to attend matches and to protect press freedom, yet FIFA has not taken meaningful action to enforce its own regulations,” Worden said.
“The latest detentions show that much stronger action than a verbal warning is needed from FIFA and that it needs to impose sanctions for such blatant, long-standing gender discrimination.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has criticized the ban. But powerful hard-liners, including the country’s prosecutor-general, have suggested that the ban should remain in place.