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Tuesday 10 September 2019

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Sahar Khodayari was nicknamed "The Blue Girl" after the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal.

A 29-year-old Iranian woman has died after setting herself alight after being charged for trying to attend a men's soccer match.

Sahar Khodayari, a soccer fan nicknamed "The Blue Girl" after the colors of her favorite team, Esteghlal, died in a Tehran hospital, Iranian media reported on September 9.

Unconfirmed reports suggested that she died over the weekend but that her death had been announced on September 9 after her burial under tight security measures in the holy Shi'ite city of Qom.

Khodayari's death comes days after she poured gasoline on herself and set herself alight outside a court on September 2 where she had been summoned after being charged following an attempt to enter a sports stadium to watch a soccer game.

She reportedly had burns over 90 percent of her body and her lungs had been badly damaged.

Khodayari died after pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself alight outside a court on September 2.
Khodayari died after pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself alight outside a court on September 2.

Her sister said that Khodayari suffered from bipolar disorder and that she had attempted suicide in the past.

Khodayari's sister told Iranian media that her mental state had deteriorated following her arrest and after hearing that she could be jailed for six months.

The woman said her sister attempted in mid-March to sneak into a soccer match at Tehran's Azadi Stadium while wearing a blue wig and wearing a long coat.

Khodayari told security guards that she was a woman after they tried to search her, according to her sister.

"They arrested her right there," she said in a September 5 interview with Shahrvandonline.ir.

Khodayari's arrest, her attempted suicide, and her death have led to an outcry on social media and condemnation of a state ban on female spectators that has been enforced for nearly four decades.

In the past, only selected groups of women have been allowed into stadiums to watch soccer matches or other men's sporting events.

Devoted female soccer fans have managed to defy the ban on rare occasions by disguising themselves as men.

"She was the daughter of Iran," Iranian lawmaker Parvaneh Salahshouri said, adding "in a place where men decide for women and deprive them of their most basic rights and women go along this blatant injustice by men."

"We're all responsible for the imprisonment and the burning of the Sahars of this country," Salahshouri said on Twitter.

Several Esteghlal players grieved Khodayari's death on social media while expressing "shame" over her plight.

National team player Hossein Mahini shared a drawing by renowned soccer cartoonist Omar Momani in tribute to Khodayari.

An unnamed official was quoted last week by media as saying the young woman had been arrested for not being sufficiently veiled and for clashing with security guards.

He said her court hearing did not take place because the judge assigned to the case was not present.

Khodayari's death comes amid pressure on Iran by soccer's world governing body, FIFA, to abolish -- or at least relax -- the ban that Iranian officials have enforced for nearly 40 years on women attending men's sporting events.

On August 25, Iran finally relented when Deputy Sports Minister Jamshid Tahizade announced that women would be allowed to attend Iran's World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia.

Human Rights Watch director of global initiatives Minky Worden said on Twitter that FIFA chief Gianni Infantino had not applied enough pressure on Iran to stop the abuses.

"It was predictable decades of women protesting #Iran's stadium ban could end in catastrophe," Worden said while asking FIFA to confirm actions it will take after the tragic death of Khodayari.

"We are aware of that tragedy and deeply regret it," FIFA's media department said in comments sent to RFE/RL. "FIFA convey our condolences to the family and friends of Sahar and reiterate our calls on the Iranian authorities to ensure the freedom and safety of any women engaged in this legitimate fight to end the stadium ban for women in Iran."

Reshat Ametov went missing in Simferopol in March 2014. His body was discovered in a forest two weeks later.

Ukrainian authorities say they have identified the suspected kidnappers of a Crimean Tatar activist who was abducted in broad daylight more than five years ago as he protested Moscow's seizure of Crimea -- and who turned up dead weeks later.

Ukrainian prosecutors alleged on September 10 that two members of a pro-Russian militia were acting on orders from a Russian military veteran when they abducted Reshat Ametov, 39, on a central square in the Crimean capital of Simferopol in March 2014 as he staged a one-man protest against Russia's military incursion.

Two weeks later, Ametov's body was discovered in a forest 60 kilometers east of Simferopol, and he is widely seen in Ukraine and among Crimean Tatars as an early martyr to the cause of opposing Russia's takeover.

"Thanks to the cooperation of the prosecutor's office, the police, and human rights organizations, the crime was solved today,” Hunduz Mamedov, Kyiv's top prosecutor for Crimea, said in a statement.

Kyiv’s police directorate responsible for Crimea identified the two suspected kidnappers as 44-year-old Oleksandyr Bahlyuk and 33-year-old Oleksandyr Rudenko.

They are accused of carrying out the abduction under the direction of 53-year-old Yevgeny Skripnik, described by Ukraine as a retired Russian serviceman who later took part in Russia-backed military operations against Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine has issued international warrants for the arrest of the three men, Ukrainian prosecutors said. They have been charged with aggravated kidnapping, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Ukrainian authorities conducted the investigation remotely, as they do not have access to Crimean territory, which Russia seized in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by 100 members of the United Nations.

Video of Ametov’s abduction was published online weeks after the incident. It shows him being frog-marched into a car just meters in front of a man wearing a red armband typical of so-called "self-defense" units that coordinated with Russian forces in Crimea at the time.


It was the last time Ametov was known to have been seen alive.

In a statement in March, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said it had "received information that indicates Crimean self-defense's involvement in Ametov's disappearance and killing."


The mission told RFE/RL at the time that its information was based on interviews with "a number of people," including Ametov's relatives and activists at pro-Ukrainian rallies at the time of his disappearance, as well as an analysis of the video of his abduction.

In 2017, then-President Petro Poroshenko posthumously awarded Ametov the nation's highest title -- Hero of Ukraine.

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