Iranians across the country tuned in to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) TV channel on July 9th. On their television screens were crying, apologetic Iranian women in traditional clothing.
These women were not being broadcasted nationwide by choice. Earlier, they had been arrested by Iranian authorities and were apologizing publicly for their crimes.
The crime that they were arrested for? Dancing.
Elnaz Ghasemi and Maedeh Hojabri were two of these women on television. Ghasemi was arrested while visiting Iran, as she was from Canada. Hojabri was only a teenager.
Iranian authorities arrested the women in May after they found videos of the two dancing on social media. While the women were not in required Islamic dress, they were doing traditional Iranian dances.
The television program that aired was called “Devious” and featured several women and men who have large numbers of followers on Instagram apologizing for the content that they posted online.
There has been backlash, both in Iran and worldwide, after the television program aired.
“Equal parts abusive and embarrassing, dragging a teenager before the camera to apologize for dancing is a new low for the Iranian authorities,” said Sarah Leah Whiston, the Middle East director at the Human Rights Watch. “Iran’s authorities should stop harassing all those arrested for exercising their right to free expression.”
Iranian women also expressed their distaste with their government.
“If you tell people anywhere in the world that 17- and 18-year-old girls are arrested for their dance, happiness and beauty on charges of spreading indecency, while child rapists and others are free, they will laugh! Because for them, it’s unbelievable!” commented Iranian blogger Hossein Ronaghi.
In response to the arrests, Iranian women have been posting videos of themselves dancing and using a hashtag that translates to #dancing_isn’t_a_crime.
In response to the criticism after “Devious” aired, IRIB’s public relations director, Mohammadhossein Ranjbaran, attributed the program’s creation to the Iranian authorities.
“Judicial authorities had asked [us] to publicize this content,” Ranjbaran said.
This is not the first time that Iranian authorities have arrested those on social media. Since 2016, several Iranian women fashion bloggers had been arrested and interrogated by Iran’s revolutionary guards. Many were shown on social media without a headscarf and wearing makeup.
It’s obvious that many Iranians strongly disagree with the dramatic legal reaction to self-expression, but what’s not clear is if Iran will loosen its tight hold and give women the freedoms they deserve as human beings.
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