It was widely reported on Tuesday that an Iranian woman had died in the hospital approximately a week after setting herself on fire outside the courthouse where the judgment was pending in a case initiated against her after she tried to enter a stadium in defiance of the longstanding ban on female attendance at men’s sporting events.
The woman in question was reportedly 30 years old in March when she followed the lead of many other female soccer fans and women’s rights activists by dressing in men’s clothing in an effort to slip past guards and watch a match featuring her favorite team, Esteghlal F.C. But after being identified at the gate, the “Blue Girl” – so-called because of the team’s official color and the color of the dress she was wearing at the time of her self-immolation – was arrested and charged with “offending public chastity” and “insulting law enforcement officers.”
Family of the Blue Girl were willing to comment publicly upon her case in the days after she doused herself with gasoline and incurred burns on as much as 90 percent of her body. However, they did so anonymously, declining to expose the woman’s identity. She has consequently been referred to by a pseudonym in the media – sometimes Sahar Kodayari and sometimes Sara. But ignorance of her true name has not prevented Iranian activists and public personas from expressing sympathy on social media, sometimes while sharing images purportedly showing her heavily bandaged in the hospital bed where she would later die.
On the other hand, these images and pseudonyms generally appeared only on independent news channels and largely banned social media networks within the Islamic Republic. Although picked up and shared widely in Western and international media, the Blue Girl’s case has reportedly been almost completely ignored by Iranian state media and by semi-official news outlets. In fact, one of the only references to Kodayari’s death in conservative Iranian media specifically blamed “counterrevolutionary media” for the publicity surrounding her case.
The overall silence of state media outlets has been reflected in the response, or lack thereof, from government officials.
To the extent that it has been conveyed to international media, much of that support has focused on condemning the draconian social restrictions and overzealous enforcement that led to Kodayari being charged with criminal offenses in the first place.
In its statement regarding the case, Amnesty International noted that Kodayari would surely be alive today if the Iranian regime had not demonstrated a pattern of ruthlessness in its prosecution of women for violating gender segregation rules and forced veiling laws. Although wearing a wig as part of her male disguise at the time of her arrest, Kodayari was also charged with “bad hijab,” implying that her hair was deemed to be inadequately concealed.
Last month, United Nations human rights experts issued a joint statement condemning the lengthy sentences given to three women who had protested against compulsory veiling by handing out roses on a women-only subway car.
The tragic death of a young woman who self-immolated to protest against the mullahs’ suppression, discrimination, & deprivation of women while heartbreaking to all Iranians, only adds to the resolve of women & men in #Iran to overthrow this religious tyranny & establish freedom.