In a crackdown on “un-Islamic dress,” Iranian authorities arrested eight individuals involved in Instagrams of women without headscarves. A former model was also questioned by the authorities on live state television as part of the operation which “targets Iran’s fashion elite for their use of social media.”
Prosecutor Javad Babei made the arrests public on TV, saying the operation was zeroing in on “threats to morality and the foundation of family.” A total of 29 people were notified about their allegedly problematic social media presence, but most had modified that behavior and, as a result, “did not face any judicial action,” Babei said. According to the BBC, the eight people who were arrested were among 170 identified by investigators as “being involved in modeling online”; in their ranks were 59 photographers and make-up artists, 58 models and 51 fashion salon managers and designers.
Babei said that modeling agencies were responsible for a significant chunk of Instagram activity originating in Iran — 20 percent of posts — and that these posts without headscarves are “making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity.”
The former model, Elham Arab, was questioned about photos she shared in which she is not wearing a headscarf. She called the photographs a “mistake” and said that people should “consider at what cost” they choose to take these actions. “For an Iranian film star they may not lose much but for a model she will certainly lose her hijab and honor.”
Arab, 26, had posted images of herself in bridal gowns. Her hair, plainly visible, was dyed blonde. During the interview on Sunday, she wore a black scarf and gloves as she related her “bitter experiences” and warned other young women to stay out of the industry. “You can be certain that no man would want to marry a model whose fame has come by losing her honor,” she said.
Iran arrests a network of models, make up & fashion artists & photographers who were active on instagram. pic.twitter.com/1qLY1YmwTP
— Negar (@NegarMortazavi) May 17, 2016
Arab acknowledged the work was lucrative (she allegedly earned about 2,000 pounds a month). But “it was not clear if her appearance was voluntary, as was said, or if it amounted to the kind of forced confession often used by the Iranian judiciary,” the Guardian reports, and though the identities of the detainees have not been made public, “some of the models have apparently been released on bail and at least a couple have since fled the country.”
Mostafa Alizadeh, spokesperson of the Iranian Centre for Surveying and Combating Organised Cyber Crimes, said that “sterilizing popular cyberspaces is on our agenda. We carried out this plan in 2013 with Facebook, and now Instagram is the focus.”
Women have been required to cover their hair in accordance with Islamic law since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But the past two years have been explosive ones for the Iranian fashion industry, as a religious edict by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled that modeling is, in fact, permissible under Islam.
In the wake of that policy change, the fashion industry in Iran has thrived — but, as the Guardian reports, “the revival has also led to a spike in the number of independent models working outside the auspices of licensed agencies, relying largely on their following on social networks such as Instagram and Telegram, an online messaging app used by one in four Iranians.” The crackdowns, codenamed Spider I and Spider II, came in the wake of the Iranian fashion industry’s rise.
“The enemy is trying to invest in [our] cultural and social domains in order to infiltrate the minds of our youth,” Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, Tehran’s prosecutor general, told reporters. “They are investing online through sexual attractions and [promise] of financial gains.”
On the television program, Jafar-Dolatabadi emphasized that it was not Iranians in the fashion industry but rather “the enemy” — as the New York Times put it, “Iran’s household label for the West and its unwanted influences” — that was to blame.
Does this enemy have a name, a face, a spokesperson? Well, on an Iranian news program on Sunday night, the Organized Cyberspace Crimes Unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp accused noted internet-breaker Kim Kardashian of colluding with Instagram to corrupt Iranian women.
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A report from Iran Wire quotes OCCU spokesman Mostafa Alizadeh describing how Kardashian and her ilk “target young people and women” with the scandalous imagery they share. Alizadeh suggests Kardashian is employed by Instagram in some capacity as part of a complex plot to lure Iranian women toward a Western lifestyle and away from the teachings of Islam.
“These schemes originate from around the Persian Gulf and England,” Alizadeh said. “When you draw the operational graph, you will see that it is a foreign operation. Ms. Kim Kardashian is a popular fashion model so Instagram’s CEO tells her, ‘make this native.’ There is no doubt that financial support is involved as well. We are taking this very seriously.”
Instagram is permitted in Iran, though the authorities have implemented filters that hides unapproved content. Facebook and Twitter are blocked.