Women in Iran have been required to cover their hair in public for over four decades. But how far does the concept of “public” extend? As it turns out, posting pictures on Instagram that can be considered “un-Islamic” or promoting western beauty ideals is now an offense one can be arrested for. Eight women were taken into custody over the weekend due to their social media accounts.
The below picture (which is not of one of the women arrested) is a good example of the type of photo that could land an Iranian woman in trouble. While there’s absolutely no explicit content, the woman posing appears without a headscarf, which is punishable by law and puts women in danger of being attacked by other citizens who see them as impure.
The BBC reports that the women, seven of whom have not been named, are part of a much larger investigation by Tehran’s cyber crimes court, which is investigating over 170 people who work in the world of fashion, modeling, makeup, and photography. Twenty people were warned by the government that their postings were inappropriate, and the eight who chose not to change their behavior were arrested in a bid to make Iranian cyberspace as de-Westernized as possible.
A spokesman of the Iranian Centre for Surveying and Combating Organised Cyber Crimes, Mostafa Alizadeh, said: “Sterilising popular cyberspaces is on our agenda.
“We carried out this plan in 2013 with Facebook, and now Instagram is the focus,” he added, saying fresh operations would begin in the coming days.
One model, Elham Arab, whose Instagram account has not been accessible since Monday, was forced to apologize publicly for promoting ideals that go against Islam and spreading “western promiscuity” for posting with her hair uncovered. Arab, who is often featured in bridal shoots, had her hair covered as she apologized for her perceived wrong-doing. A search for Arab on YouTube, where videos of her modeling still exist, produced results that featured the model’s face as the cover shot, but were primarily replays of her forced statements of remorse.
For reference, here’s a video of one of Arab’s photo shoots:
And here’s photos from Arab’s questioning regarding her Instagram account.
During her apology, Arab said, “All girls want to marry and live happily. But if you ask [men] if they would marry [a model], 90 percent would say no.” The apology was reported as voluntary, but it’s relatively easy to suppose that it came from a place of fear rather than true repentance.
While political dissidents being arrested by the Iranian government isn’t new, what is new and shocking to so many is the fact that these women were found to be breaking the law while not engaging in any sort of political commentary. As Tara Sepehri Far, a human rights expert, told BuzzFeed, “Over last year or so, the debate in Iran has shifted towards the influence of lifestyle, and the government is deciding how people who do not conform to the desired lifestyle should be treated.”
Authorities are also concerned about the influence of Kim Kardashian, who they believe might be working for Instagram to make modeling more popular in Iran, targeting women and making them think and behave in ways that are considered by the government to be impure.
There’s no word yet on how the women in custody will be punished, but the supervisor of Tehran’s Media Crimes division is referring to the arrests as a “wake-up call.”