Iranians dance in solidarity with teen arrested over Instagram video
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Iranians dance in solidarity with teen arrested over Instagram video

Social media users defy strict modesty laws after state media broadcasts a possibly coerced apology from 18-year-old Maedeh Hojabr

Maedeh Hojabri, an Iranian teen who was detained in May 2018 for posting dance videos on her Instagram account. (screen capture: Twitter)
Maedeh Hojabri, an Iranian teen who was detained in May 2018 for posting dance videos on her Instagram account. (screen capture: Twitter)

Iranian women are posting videos of themselves dancing to Instagram to protest the country’s strict Islamic modesty laws after a teenage girl was arrested for posting dance videos to the photo and video sharing platform.

Last week, state TV broadcast a video of 18-year-old gymnast Maedeh Hojabri tearfully admitting to breaking moral norms, but insisted she wasn’t trying to incite others to violate Iranian modesty laws.

“I had no bad intentions … I did not want to encourage others to do the same … I did not work with a network,” a crying Hojabri said.

It was unclear whether her statement was made under duress.

Shabooneh, a local news website, said Hojabri and three other individuals were detained on similar charges in recent weeks before being released on bail.

Islamic law in Iran requires women to wear modest clothing and a headscarf, and prohibits them from dancing in public.

Before her social media accounts were deleted, Hojabri posted around 300 videos on her Instagram, many of which showed her dancing in both Iranian and Western styles. She also appeared in videos without wearing the obligatory Islamic headscarf. Her performances had thousands of followers on various accounts with her name on them, ranging from 12,000 to 66,000 followers.

Iranian police have said they plan to shut down similar accounts on Instagram, and the judiciary is considering blocking access to the site.

In response to reports of Hojabri’s arrest, Iranians began posting videos online of themselves dancing in public under the hashtags #dancing_isn’t_a_crime” and “#dance_to_freedom.”

“I’m dancing so that they [the authorities] see and know that they cannot take away our happiness and hope by arresting teenagers and [girls like] Maedeh,” one social media user wrote according to the BBC.

“Art is the language of the soul, highest of the hopes, not a crime,” another posted alongside her own dancing clip.

It wasn’t clear how many women had taken part in the protest, but reports in international media said dozens were risking arrest by uploading their own videos online.

Iran has already blocked access to many social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the Telegram messaging app. Millions of Iranians continue to use the sites through proxies and VPNs.

Iran’s judiciary and security forces are dominated by hard-liners who launch periodic crackdowns on behavior deemed un-Islamic.

The latest arrests came months after police detained 29 women who removed their headscarves as part of an anti-hijab campaign known as “White Wednesdays.”

The police said the campaign was being pushed by Persian-language satellite TV networks based abroad, purportedly encouraging women participants to take their white headscarves off in protest of the country’s strict Islamic modesty laws.

On Tuesday, an Iranian court sentenced a prominent human rights activist to 20 years in prison for participating in the protest.

Shapark Shajarizadeh, 42, was released on bail in late April, but her current whereabouts were unknown.

AP contributed to this report.

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