Women's rights activist missing in Iran

Friends fear photojournalist Maryam Majd was arrested before boarding flight to cover Women's World Cup in Germany

An Iranian photojournalist and women's rights activist who campaigned for female football fans to be allowed to enter stadiums has disappeared.

Maryam Majd, 25, is feared to have been held by security officials before boarding a flight from Tehran to Düsseldorf, Germany, where she intended to cover the Fifa Women's World Cup.

Petra Landers, a former German national footballer who had invited Majd to join her in a book project about women's sport, said she has not heard from her since Friday when the photographer was scheduled to arrive in Düsseldorf.

"I waited for hours in the airport but eventually found that she was not on the plane at the first place," Landers told the Guardian. "The last time I talked to her she was in the airport in Tehran waiting to board the plane and I have not been able to contact her nor her family since then."

Majd specialised in sports photography, although her pictures of female athletes were usually censored in the official media.

Shadi Sadr, a prominent women's rights campaigner living in exile in London, said: "We are almost sure that she has been arrested but the question is why authorities in Iran refuse to give any information about her after five days since her disappearance."

Many opposition figures have been arrested at Tehran airport, especially since the disputed presidential election in 2009.

Majd has been campaigning to allow women to watch football matches in stadiums. Women in Iran are prohibited from entering them amid fears they could face verbal abuse or violence.

"Maryam is one of the very few women sports photographers in Iran and because she is a woman, she has exclusive access to women's sports and had been able to attract lots of attention towards sportswomen in the country," said Sadr.

Sportswomen in Iran are required to cover themselves from head to toe, but despite the restrictions they have been active in international competitions. International games, however, are not broadcast on the state television because they feature foreign women players who are not covered.

Iran's women's football team was banned from an Olympic qualifier recently after Fifa ruled that their full-body strip broke the organisations rules.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the football association "dictators and colonialists" after the move and Iranian sports officials plan to file a complaint against the decision.

Offside, a 2006 Iranian film directed by Jafar Panahi – who has been sentenced to six years in jail and banned from filmmaking for 20 years – features a group of girls attempting to enter a stadium to watch a World Cup qualifying match.


Saeed Kamali Dehghan

The GuardianTramp

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