Iran: Shocking death of football fan who set herself on fire exposes impact of contempt for women’s rights

Responding to reports that a young woman who set herself on fire after being summoned to court to face charges after trying to enter a football stadium in Tehran has died from her injuries in hospital, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, Philip Luther, said:

“What happened to Sahar Khodayari is heart-breaking and exposes the impact of the Iranian authorities’ appalling contempt for women’s rights in the country. Her only ‘crime’ was being a woman in a country where women face discrimination that is entrenched in law and plays out in the most horrific ways imaginable in every area of their lives, even sports.

“To our knowledge, Iran is the only country in the world that stops and punishes women seeking to enter football stadiums. This discriminatory ban must end immediately and the international community, including football’s world governing body, FIFA, and the Asian Football Confederation, must take urgent action to end the ban and to ensure that women are allowed access to all sports stadiums without discrimination or risk of prosecution or punishment.

“While the Iranian authorities have allowed small numbers of women to enter football stadiums on a handful of occasions, these have amounted to nothing more than publicity stunts, rather than meaningful steps to lifting the ban on women altogether. Amnesty International believes that Sahar Khodayari would still be alive if it were not for this draconian ban and the subsequent trauma of her arrest, detention and prosecution for attempting to circumvent it. Her death must not be in vain. It must spur change in Iran if further tragedies are to be avoided in the future.”


In March 2019, in defiance of Iran’s ban on women entering football stadiums, 29-year-old Sahar Khodayari dressed as a man and attempted to enter Iran’s national football stadium in Tehran to watch a match between her favourite football team, Esteghlal of Iran, and Al-Ain of the United Arab Emirates, during the AFC Asian Cup. She was stopped from entering when the stadium’s security guards discovered she was a woman. She was consequently detained in Shahr-e Rey prison (also known as Gharchak), which is a disused chicken farm that holds several hundred women convicted of violent offences in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, before being released on bail two days later.

Amnesty International understands that Sahar Khodayari was summoned to a Revolutionary Court in Tehran on 2 September 2019 to face charges related to her attempt to enter Azadi football stadium. She was charged with “openly committing a sinful act by… appearing in public without a hijab” and “insulting officials”. The case was adjourned and, after she left the court, she poured petrol on herself and set herself on fire outside the courthouse. According to hospital officials, she received burns on 90% of her body and died on 9 September.

Her story has received much attention inside Iran, with politicians, celebrities and footballers criticizing the ban on women entering football stadiums.

Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns about Iran’s compulsory veiling laws, which have violated women’s rights for decades, including their rights to non-discrimination, freedom of belief and religion, freedom of expression, and protection from arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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