Iran has arrested eight female models for posting photos on Instagram that authorities have deemed “un-Islamic.” The announcement of the arrests, by the prosecutor of Tehran’s cybercrimes court, was made during a state television program on Sunday that focused on the “threats to morality and the foundation of family” posed by social media. The arrests are only the latest example of the Iranian government’s attempts to control online expression, which in recent years has led to bloggers, artists, and activists being detained and imprisoned.
In the so-called “un-Islamic” Instagram photos, mostly selfies, the models are not wearing headscarves. Since 1979, women in Iran have been required by law to cover their hair in public. This law is strictly enforced by the morality police: in 2014 alone, 3.6 million women were warned, fined, or arrested for inappropriate dress. And in recent years, the definition of “public” has expanded to include cyberspace. These latest arrests are part of a state-wide operation called Spider II, which is a new crackdown on “un-Islamic” online activity. Part of the operation involves targeting women who have violated the mandatory headscarf law by posting photos online showing their uncovered hair.
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The eight models — Melikaa Zamani, Niloofar Behboudi, Donya Moghadam, Dana Nik, Shabnam Molavi, Elnaz Golrokh, Hamid Fadaei, and Elham Arab — are among 170 people under investigation due to their involvement with online modeling agencies. According to a statement from the court, these include 59 photographers and makeup artists, 58 models, and 51 fashion salon managers and designers. Of this group, 29 were warned by the court that they were subject to criminal investigation. Prosecutor Javad Babaei said that about 20% of Instagram posts from Iran come from modeling agencies, which are partly responsible for “making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity.”
“Sterilizing popular cyberspaces is on our agenda,” Mostafa Alizadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian Center for Surveying and Combating Organized Cyber Crimes, said. “We carried out this plan in 2013 with Facebook, and now Instagram is the focus.”
One model, Elham Arab, famous for her wedding dress photoshoots, was charged with “promoting western promiscuity.” On Monday, she appeared before Iran’s revolutionary court in a black chador with her platinum hair dyed brown. There, she was forced to give a public apology, which was broadcast on state television. “All people love beauty and fame,” she said. “They would like to be seen, but it is important to know what price they will pay to be seen.” The photos on Arab’s Instagram account have been replaced with warnings.
Iranian Model, Elham Arab, answering to Tehran attorney for posting her pictures without scarf on Instagram pic.twitter.com/y1CSM4FrYQ
— Potkin Azarmehr (@potkazar) May 16, 2016
Another model whose arrest warrant was issued on Sunday, Elnaz Golrokh, fled the country earlier this year with her model husband, Hamid Fadaei. While other arrested models are facing prosecution, Golrokh and Fadaei have been posting photos of themselves at black tie events in Dubai.
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Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a prominent cleric has banned the use of face-distorting Snapchat filters, claiming they are “sinful.” On Twitter, Nasser al-Omar implored his more than two million followers to avoid “distorting the image of the human face and the creation of God just to make people laugh.” The tweet, of course, was answered with a barrage of doctored images; in one, al-Omar is transformed, via the banned Snapchat app, into a Coachella festivalgoer in a flower crown.