Iranian actor arrested en route to women's World Cup

Pegah Ahangarani, a supporter of the country's opposition, was due to go to Germany to participate in TV coverage

A popular Iranian actor and outspoken supporter of the country's opposition movement has been arrested in Tehran after attempting to travel to Germany to take part in coverage of the women's World Cup.

Pegah Ahangarani, 27, was scheduled to go to Germany to participate in TV programmes about the Fifa tournament, but was picked up from her home in the capital by security officials on Sunday.

Ahangarani fell foul of the Islamic regime when she publicly campaigned for opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran's 2009 presidential elections, but escaped arrest until recently because of her widespread popularity.

She is the second woman to have been arrested in recent weeks in connection with the women's World Cup in Germany. Maryam Majd, a prominent Iranian photographer and activist who had campaigned for women to be allowed to enter stadiums to watch football matches in Iran, was arrested in late June before going to Germany, where she wanted to work on a book about women and sport.

Within days of Ahangarani going missing, Deutsche Welle – Germany's international broadcasting service, which had invited her to Berlin – confirmed she had been arrested. "The Farsi-language service of Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcasting service, has learned from people close to the actress that Ahangarani has been arrested," the German news organisation said. "Deutsche Welle had set up a blog for Ahangarani, who enjoys broad popularity in Iran, to report on the women's World Cup soccer championships currently being held in Germany."

At least four other women rights activists have been arrested in recent weeks, including Mahnaz Mohammadi, an acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Zahra Yazdani, a journalist, and campaigners Maryam Bahrman and Mansoureh Behkish.

Ahangarani, the daughter of acclaimed Iranian filmmakers Jamshid Ahangarani and Manijeh Hekmat, has repeatedly pushed boundaries in her career as a young actor playing roles in a country where women are obliged to cover themselves from head to toe.

At 15, Ahangarani featured in a controversial film, The Girl in the Sneakers, which touched the then taboo issue of a rebellious girl who wanted to have a boyfriend in an Islamic society. Girls in Iran are not allowed to have boyfriends, although the majority of young people rebel against it in today's Iran.

According to Deutsche Welle, officials in Tehran have confirmed that Ahangarani is currently being held by the security agents of the Revolutionary Guards.

Ahangarani has contacted her family once since her arrest, when she told them she was unaware of her whereabouts or the charges against her. No information was available on where she was being held or whether she had access to legal representation.

The London-based human rights organisation ARTICLE 19 has called on Iran to release Ahangarani and Mohammadi.

"ARTICLE 19 calls on the Iranian government to immediately release Mohammadi and Ahangarani, and other artists and activists unjustly detained," Agnes Callamard, the executive director, said. "The authorities must clarify the reasons for their arrests and ensure that the women have access to legal representation."

In recent years, several filmmakers and actors have been arrested or sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Director Jafar Panahi received a six-year prison term and 20-year ban on filmmaking last year, along with Mohammad Rasoulof, who was also sentenced to six years in jail. Ramin Parchami, a prominent actor, remains in custody after he was arrested in protests staged in February in solidarity with the uprisings in the Arab world.


Saeed Kamali Dehghan

The GuardianTramp

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