Iranian celebrities face retaliation for supporting protests

BAGHDAD (AP) — Singers, actors, sports stars — the list goes on. Iranian celebrities have been surprisingly public in their support for the massive anti-government protests rocking their country. And the ruling establishment is fighting back.

Celebrities have found themselves targeted for arrest, had their passports confiscated and faced other forms of harassment.

Among the most notable cases is that of singer Shervin Hajipour, whose song “For…” became the anthem of the protest movement, which erupted on September 17 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini , in custody after his arrest. for failing to adhere to the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.

The song begins with a sweet melody, then Hajipour’s resonant voice begins, “To dance in the streets”, “for the fear we feel when we kiss…” – listing the reasons young Iranians posted on Twitter to explain why they are taking to the streets against the incumbent theocracy.

It ends with the widely chanted slogan that has become synonymous with protests: “For women, life, freedom”.

Posted on his Instagram page, the song quickly went viral. Hajipour paid the price: the 25-year-old was arrested and held for several days before being released on bail on October 4.

Since the protests took off – and went from anger over Amini’s death to a full-scale challenge to the 43-year rule by conservative Islamic clerics – a string of celebrities have faced reprisals, singers and players football to news anchors.

At least seven public figures have been detained inside the country, most of whom have been released on bail and could face charges, according to Iranian media. Others were interrogated and released.

But their popularity has also made it difficult to crack down too harshly on them – unlike the protesting activists whom security forces have arrested in large numbers. Iran has a vibrant scene of singers and actors, as well as sports stars, who are closely followed by the public.

Holly Dagres, a nonresident Iranian-American fellow with the Atlantic Council, said the attempts to intimidate public figures were no surprise.

“Celebrities – be they athletes, actors, singers or entertainers – have large followings in Iran, especially on social media, and their support brings these protests to life,” he said. she declared.

Their support has helped invigorate protesters struggling with widespread internet blackouts that limit their ability to make their voices heard and face a brutal government crackdown. There were numerous arrests, dozens of deaths and many others injured. Yet the protests have spread to dozens of cities, attracting large segments of Iranian society, from schoolgirls to oil workers.

One of Iran’s most beloved classical Persian music singers, Homayoun Shajarian, projected a large photo of Amini behind him on stage as he sang a traditional song, ‘Dawn Bird’, during a tour in Australia in September.

The audience joined him in singing one of the song’s most iconic lines: “The tyrant’s oppression like a hunter has taken away my nest.” God, Sky, Nature, bring dawn to our dark night.

When Shajarian returned to Iran, his passport and that of actress Sahar Dolatshahi, who was traveling with him, were seized at the airport. He then said on his Instagram account that they had been banned from travel.

Similarly, a football legend in Iran, Ali Daei, had his passport confiscated at the airport upon his return from abroad. He had urged the government on social media to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than resorting to repression, violence and arrests”.

A few days later, the passport was returned to him, he told reporters.

Two well-known former footballers, Hossein Mahini and Hamidreza Aliasgari, have been arrested and released on bail. Mona Borzoui, a composer and Mahmoud Shahriari, a former public television presenter, were also arrested and face charges.

Iranian leaders accuse foreign governments of stoking the protests. Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Majid Mirahmadi said celebrities in particular had played a “leading role” in the unrest.

Mirahmadi said celebrities who supported the protests will be allowed to atone for their “mistaken actions”.

He denied that any athletes had been arrested, but said some had received “counseling”. He said Mahini, for example, had been freed and given “a chance to make up for his mistakes”, according to the Mehr news agency.

Public figures were not discouraged.

Amirhossein Esfandiar, a national volleyball player, reposted a video of violent clashes between security forces and protesters, writing, “You have no sense of humanity, why are you fighting and killing each other the innocent ?

Qasim Haddadifar, a veteran sportsman and former football captain, posted photos of protesting girls and wrote he was proud of them in an Instagram story.

Some players from the Persepolis FC soccer team reportedly wore black armbands during a game on Wednesday in solidarity with the protest movement and were later summoned by security, UK-based Iran International reported.

Actress Hediye Tehrani said Iranian security tipped her off about her posts to her nearly one million Instagram followers. Yet she continues to share images in support of the protests. “Millions of girls are now Mahsa Amini,” she wrote in a recent post.

Celebrities outside Iran have also raised their voices, from Dua Lipa and Shakira to fashion house Balenciaga. On Instagram, Angelina Jolie posted a photo of a protester holding an image of Amini and wrote, “To the women of Iran, we see you.”

The ruling establishment clearly sees a danger in the wide reach of celebrities. Ali Saaedi Shahroudi, a former representative of the Supreme Leader of the Revolutionary Guards, called for an organization to monitor the behavior of musicians, actors and sports stars, similar to institutions regulating professional groups.

But the damage may already be done.

Although Hajipour was forced to remove his song from Instagram, it continues to resonate, sung by everyone from Iranian schoolgirls to protesters in European capitals.

A campaign is underway to nominate the song for a Grammy, in the Best Song for Social Change category.

“Although using #MahsaAmini may look like keyboard activism, Iranians see the world’s attention on them and they appreciate it,” Dagres said. “Solidarity inspires protesters to continue to brave batons and bullets to bring about change in their country. It gives them hope. »

Comments are closed.