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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Iranian photographer and women’s soccer rights activist disappears in Tehran

Maryam Majd, a photojournalist and women's rights activist, campaigns for female football fans to be allowed to watch matches in stadiums. (File Photo)

Maryam Majd, a photojournalist and women's rights activist, campaigns for female football fans to be allowed to watch matches in stadiums. (File Photo)
An Iranian photographer and activist for women’s soccer rights has disappeared as the Islamic republic battles world soccer body FIFA for its own interpretation of the rights of women in the beautiful game.

Maryam Majd, 25, is believed to have been detained by Iranian security officials as she was boarding a flight from Tehran to Düsseldorf to cover world soccer body FIFA’s Women’s World Cup.

Petra Landers, a former German national soccer player had invited Ms. Majid to visit Germany to collaborate in writing a book on women’s sport. Mr. Landers told The Guardian he had not heard from Ms. Majid since Friday when she 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,” Mr. Landers said. “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.”

A sports photographer who focused on female athletes, Ms. Majid often ran afoul of authorities in Iran, whose state media boycotted her work.

Iranian exiles believe Ms. Majid is being held in Iran without explanation or disclosure of where she is being detained.

“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,” said London-based Iranian women activist Shadi Sadr.

Ms. Majid is a campaigner for the right of women to attend soccer matches in stadiums. Iran extended the ban on women in stadiums earlier this year by also barring women from watching matches on screens in public places.

Iranian spiritual leader stymied attempts by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to lift the ban in 2006 after women dressed up as men and smuggled their way into stadiums.

“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,” Ms. Sadr said.

The detention of Ms. Majid casts a shadow over Iran’s battle with FIFA over the right of women players to wear Islamic headdress during matches.

The captain of Iran’s women’s team defended this week the right of players to wear the hijab, an Islamic headdress that covers the hair, neck and ears. Her team was disqualified earlier this month for qualifiers for the 2012 Olympics in London because it appeared wearing hijabs for a match against Jordan. Three Jordanian players were also banned for the same reason. Iran was disqualified after FIFA cancelled the match and awarded it to Jordan because of the wearing of the hijab.

The wearing of the hijab violated an agreement concluded in 2007 between Iran and FIFA under which religious women players were allowed to wear a specially designed cap that covered the hair only. FIFA insists the agreement was a concession on its banning of all expressions of religious or political beliefs on the soccer pitch. Iran has warned that the ban will effect not only Iranian female players but women players across the Muslim world.

The captain of the Iranian women’s football team, Niloofar Ardalan, defended the wearing of the hijab in an interview with The Tehran Times.

“We are proud of our hijab. The Iranian women players will never agree to play without Islamic dress code. For the Olympic qualifier against Jordan, we took part in the six-month training camp, but we were prevented from the match,” Ms. Ardalan said.

“This is not the first time that Iranian women’s football team has been in trouble. Last year, just two hours before our flight to Berlin, we were informed that we were not allowed to play against the German team, while we were fully prepared for the warm-up match,” she said.

“Iran has so many talented players and it’s a great pity we cannot play in the international competitions. To play with hijab is hard, but we used to play with this situation. FIFA should allow the Muslim women to play, since they have the right to show their potential like the other women,” Ms. Ardalan added.

Her words were echoed by midfielder Fereshteh Karimi.

“To play in the World Cup is my greatest dream, but FIFA officials broke our hearts after they didn’t let us play with hijab. Hopefully, they will allow us to play with Islamic dress, just as we took part in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore,” Ms. Karimi said.

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