VOA – New details have emerged about several Iranian women recently arrested in Iran for posting videos of themselves dancing on social media – arrests that have sparked an international social media backlash.
A person familiar with the situation told VOA Persian that about one month ago, authorities arrested Instagram star Maedeh Hojabri and two other young women who posted popular dancing videos.
Hojabri, a 19-year-old from Tehran, had built a large following on Instagram, posting clips of herself dancing at home to popular Western and Iranian music. Some reports said her account had attracted 600,000 followers before being suspended. In recent days, fans have used other Instagram accounts bearing Hojabri’s name to share her video clips. But she has not posted any clips herself since her arrest.
The source identified the other two women as Elnaz Ghasemi and Shadab, whose last name was not known. Videos of both women have attracted tens of thousands of views on YouTube.
Watch: YouTube video of recently arrested Iranian dancer Elnaz Ghasemi
Watch: YouTube video of recently arrested Iranian dancer Shadab
The source said all three women were released on bail after three days, but also were required to appear on Iranian state TV as part of a public shaming. One of them, Ghasemi, has since left Iran, while Hojabri has been barred from doing so and Shadab’s whereabouts are unknown.
Aired last week, a state TV program named “Wrong Path” showed images of several young woman whom it said had violated the moral norms of the Islamist-run state.
One of the women, whose face was obscured, answered an interviewer’s questions about why she posted dancing videos on social media. The woman, whom fans identified as Hojabri, said she made the videos for those fans, not intending to encourage them to do to the same.
Rights activists said Hojabri’s appearance in the program represented a forced confession of wrongdoing – a tactic that they say Iran often uses to stifle dissent.
There have been no reports in Iranian state media of the arrest of Hojabri and the other two women or the charges against them.
But the U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran said the head of Tehran’s cyberpolice, Touraj Kazemi, made an announcement coinciding with the broadcast of “Wrong Path” that people who post “indecent” material online would be pursued for crimes against national security.
Since Hojabri’s arrest became apparent from her state TV appearance, Iranian women and men inside and outside the country have led a social media backlash, expressing support for the teenager by sharing videos of themselves dancing and using the hashtag #dancing_isnt_a_crime in Farsi.
Rights group Amnesty International joined the backlash on Monday, tweeting a video of its female campaigners doing a solidarity dance on a London street.
Iran’s Islamist laws only forbid women from dancing in public and in front of men who are not close relatives.
But the growing popularity of social media videos of Iranian woman dancing at home has prompted authorities in Iran to crack down on that phenomenon as well. In recent months, Iranian authorities have vowed to take action against Instagram celebrities they deem to have posted vulgar or obscene videos.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian Service.