TEHRAN (AFP) — The Tehran prosecutor recommended strict new rules on Saturday for concerts in the capital, the latest in a tug of war between moderates and conservatives that has already seen live music banned in Iran’s second city Mashhad.
Police should record all events, while the culture ministry and the provincial governor should take greater responsibility for the content of performances and the behavior of audiences, the judiciary’s official Mizan news agency quoted Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi as saying.
It comes amid a wave of last-minute cancellations of concerts in Iran under pressure from hardliners and religious leaders which has been criticized by the more liberal President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran’s rich poetic and musical history means its religious leaders take a far more flexible approach to the arts than some other Muslim countries, but the culture ministry must still approve all music and lyrics before albums go on sale.
The issue has taken on renewed significance with Rouhani seeking re-election in less than a year. He has pushed for greater social freedoms, but conservatives are determined to prevent what they consider the spread of Western immorality.
Conservative judicial officials say less than one percent of musicians have been affected by the cancellations and critics say Rouhani is inflating the issue to divert attention from his government’s poor economic record.
A row erupted earlier this month when a prayer leader in Mashhad, which is a Shiite pilgrimage site as well as Iran’s second city, lashed out at the “debauchery” of concert-goers and called for them to be banned.
Although no concerts have been held in Mashhad for 11 years, Culture Minister Ali Jannati agreed to the ban, only to find himself criticized by the president for caving into conservative demands.
“As far as I am concerned, no minister should give in to any pressure,” Rouhani said this week.
“We have the Islamic parliament. If a law is going to be adopted, lawmakers will pass it.”
On Thursday, a letter signed by 5,000 people in Iran’s music industry was published in the reformist press, describing the ban on concerts in Mashhad as a “catastrophe that sacrifices music today, and the rest of the culture and the reputation of this country tomorrow.”
Musicians have also faced pressure from unofficial groups.
One of Iran’s most famous classical singers, Shahram Nazeri — who has previously been nicknamed “Iran’s Pavarotti” — almost had to cancel a concert with his son Hafez in the religious city of Yazd last week.
“A group of religious people wanted to cancel the concert. But Shahram and Hafez Nazeri decided to hold it anyway,” a representative for the duo told AFP.
She said protesters tried to disrupt the show.
“Loudspeakers could be heard outside the venue reciting prayers during the concert.”