Abbas Jafri Dowlatabadi, Revolutionary Attorney General in Tehran, announced this week at a press conference that, “serious efforts” are being made by Iranian legal authorities to arrest the corrupt big tycoons working on social media, and especially Instagram.
These days, the Iranian people are dealing with a worsening economic situation and especially with a devaluation over 50 percent in the worth of personal property because of a loss of more than 100 percent in the value of the Iranian rial in the past three months. In May 2018, the U.S. dollar was worth around 35,000 rials. In just three months, the value of the rial fell so sharply that the U.S. dollar became worth 90,000 rials. As most transactions in Iran are in U.S. dollars, this has had a huge effect on the value of personal property. At a time when corruption is increasing in every sector of the government and dozens of government figures are guilty in the eyes of the people of smuggling the country’s last dollars abroad, many Iranians assumed that the Attorney General’s announcement referred to the arrest of corrupt people in the fields of economy and business.
Similarly, tens of thousands of Iranians are demonstrating in the southern parts of the country, primarily in Khuzestan and Bushehr, demanding clean water. Yet the Revolutionary Attorney General gave an order to arrest young people dancing in their bedrooms and even broadcast “their tearful apologies,” during prime time on the top national television channel.
Following the attorney general’s announcement, Maedeh Hojabri, a slim girl, aged 17, was arrested among others. Video clips of her dancing have already accrued over 600,000 followers on Instagram.1 Maedeh did not dance in public. She only danced in front of the mirror in her simple bedroom at her parents’ house in Tehran. A short look at her bedroom shows that she is a totally ordinary girl and not considered part of the upper classes. She loves sport, and she exercises at a regular gym.
In her “televised confession,” Maedeh, crying bitterly, says that a growing number of her followers on Instagram encouraged her to record other video clips of herself dancing to Iranian and other songs. In the television program, which was a kind of interrogation in itself, she added that she did not seek to harm the security principles of the regime or bring about the removal of the Iranian Islamic Republic. She is only a simple citizen, and has no intention of harming the religion of Islam by dancing in her bedroom.
The 30-minute program about the Videos of the Corrupt that included the “confessions” and apologies of another three young people – two girls and a boy, who were also arrested for posting their dances on the worldwide web, led to a huge of wave of protests against the broadcasting authority in particular, and the regime in general.
Public Pushback and Backlash
Artists and many public figures were not the only ones that sharply protested against the arrest of Maedeh Hojabri and the other young dancers. Many Iranians wrote on social media that the Islamic regime had shown yet once more that it was very far from justice and humanity. Internet users emphasized that the Iranian people are suffering from harsh economic problems. Unemployment is soaring, and industry has crashed. Many Iranians are running away from their homeland. Production has come to a halt, and the value of Iranian currency is plummeting almost hourly. U.S. President Trump threatened to halt the export of Iranian oil. Several senior government officials and their adherents are busy, according to the figures of the government itself, smuggling more than $42 billion in foreign currency abroad, as well as tens of millions of dollars in gold, out of fear that the regime will fall. The Iranian people are begging for clean water and demand that elective daily electrical outages stop. However, instead, the regime invests its efforts in arresting young people for dancing in their bedrooms!
Not only are the Iranian people not intimidated by Maedeh’s arrest, but also it has reacted in an unexpected way that has surprised and confused the government even more.
Hashtags such as #برقص_تا_برقصیم (dance until we dance), essentially meaning that the Iranian people will dance to its own tune, immediately began trending on social media. Men and women of all ages posted videos of themselves dancing on social media in protest against the arrest of Maedeh and to show the government that they also dance in their homes.2
Indeed, the young people of Iran, and especially the women, no longer dance to the tune of the regime. Maedeh’s arrest occurred at a time when dancing in public has become in the past few months, a main tool for the younger generation to express its protests in a cultured way, without violence toward the police. Many video clips show young couples dancing together in the streets and city squares, primarily to demonstrate against the religious propaganda of the government. Many women even sing in the streets to show that it is their natural right to sing also in front of men. According to the laws of the mullahs’ Iran, women can only sing in front of an all-female audience in closed halls.
Maedeh’s arrest is reminiscent of an incident that occurred in 2014, when the commander of the security forces in Tehran proudly announced on television that his forces “managed to immediately neutralize a conspiracy by corrupt people.” Hours later, it emerged that the security forces had burst into several private homes in Tehran and arrested a group of young people who had danced to the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. These young people were put under arrest and then released with a legal order requiring them never to dance again. This incident led to international reactions, and the U.S. singer himself referred to the issue.4
Women dancing in public or removing their head coverings have become more common on the streets of Iran, specifically following the large protests in January 2018. This is primarily, among the younger generation, a means of saying to the government that they are not prepared to give into the dictates of the regime and will live how they want.5
Around 50 percent of the Iranian population is aged under 30 and was born after the establishment of the current regime. They and tens of millions of others are openly breaking the conventions of the regime in their private lives.
Removing head coverings as an act of protest by young Iranian women, gathered force after a young woman named Vida Movahedi, mother of an 18-month baby girl, quietly stood on Islamic Revolution Street, in central Tehran in January 2018, and put her headscarf on a pole. Vida Movahedi immediately turned into an inspiration for hundreds of young and older women on the streets of Iran. She and many other women were arrested and put into custody. Despite these arrests, the regime’s hardline tactics to intimidate women demanding their basic rights failed.
In early July, it was revealed that Shaparak Shajarizadeh, one of the young women who removed their head coverings during a wave of protests that took place in February and later in May 2018, was sentenced to 20 years in prison, including two years in custody and 18 years suspended. After sentencing, she appeared on her Instagram account, saying that she did not regret her actions at all. She emphasized that 40 years of Iranian women trying to receive their rights had failed. Therefore, her patience ran out and she decided to live how she wanted. She added that she was primarily opposed to covering her hair, and a year ago she decided to remove her hair covering everywhere.
Shajarizadeh has since fled Iran, as she announced on July 9, 2018. “Due to the injustices in Iran’s judicial system, I had to leave the country,” she stated.6
The legal authorities and the security forces announced in response to Shaparak’s sentence that the regime is serious about enforcing laws connected to government principles. According to the legal authorities, “You can’t laugh at the law” regarding head coverings, and every woman in Iran must observe this law, whether she wants to or not. A woman violating the Islamic Penal Code such as failing to cover herself is committing “a haram [sinful] act.”
According to Article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code: “Anyone in public places and roads who openly commits a harām [sinful] act, in addition to the punishment provided for the act, shall be sentenced to two months’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes; and if they commit an act that is not punishable but violates public prudency, they shall only be sentenced to 10 days to two months’ imprisonment or up to 74 lashes.”7
The regime has arrested dozens of women, and several were sentenced to prison in March 2018.8 How many people can the government arrest?
Nasrin Sotoudeh, Shaparak Shajarizadeh’s lawyer, who is considered to be one of the most active attorneys in the field of human rights in Iran, was herself arrested two months ago. Ms. Sotoudeh, who has won international prizes and was also a prisoner for several years, was returned to jail several weeks after she decided to represent the women arrested for removing their head coverings.
Following a broadcast called “Confessions of Dangerously Corrupt People” on Iranian national TV, many Iranians expressed their condemnation of the management of the broadcasting authority. Even people from the more conservative camp of the regime asked what the point was of such a measure. At the same time, dozens of Iranian political activists around the world, including Ms. Shirin Ebadi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraging Washington to impose sanctions to silence the Iranian broadcasting authority. The Iranian broadcasting authority has many channels in Farsi, English, Arabic, Spanish, and more that are broadcast through international satellites around the world. The signatories of the letter point out that sanctions imposed upon Iran’s broadcasting authority would prevent the Iranian regime from spreading its malicious propaganda against the world and against the citizens of Iran, so that it will cease harming the basic rights of the Iranian population.
Iranian demonstrators against the regime are asking in the street, “Is it the Iranian broadcasting authority or a branch of the interrogations office in the [notorious] Evin Prison? Our broadcasting authority is a source of shame.”
Millions of Iranians refuse to listen to or watch the broadcast of hours of the regime’s propaganda on dozens of the authority’s channels. Instead they watch many channels produced by Iranians in exile, primarily Manoto, broadcast from London, because they see that these channels bear more of a resemblance to their real lives.9
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