The judicial authorities in Iran appeared to harden their clampdown on expression Friday, moving to block Instagram, imprisoning the director who made the now-famous Iranian version of the Pharrell Williams “Happy” video and warning women to comply with a police campaign on the proper wearing of mandatory headscarves.
Taken together, the developments suggested that the country’s Islamic bureaucracy was alarmed over any perception of permissiveness that may have been partly inspired by the YouTube video in which six young Iranians, including bareheaded women, created a rendition of Mr. Williams’ globally popular dance hit. Their version was viewed hundreds of thousands of times after it was posted last month.
All six were arrested last weekend, forced to apologize on national television and freed on bail for unspecified crimes after three days, treatment that incited an international outpouring of sympathy, including from Mr. Williams. One of the women, Reihane Taravati, used her Instagram account to publicize their entanglement and release, which may have been seen by the judiciary and police as another impudent act.
“Hi I’m back,” Ms. Taravati wrote, thanking Mr. Williams and “everyone who cared about us.”
The semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported on Friday that an Iranian court had ordered Instagram blocked over privacy issues, and that Iran’s Ministry of Telecommunications was taking steps to ban the site, although it appeared that by late Friday, Instagram use had not been stopped. Instagram, which has its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., declined to comment.
Other forms of social media are already heavily regulated or restricted in Iran, including Facebook and Twitter, although some top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have Twitter accounts. The ayatollah even has an account on Instagram, which he joined a few years ago.
Mr. Rouhani, who has publicly called for Iran to embrace Internet freedoms, was widely perceived to favor leniency toward the “Happy in Tehran” dancers, having shared a message on Twitter on the right of Iranians to happiness, which he had first posted after his 2013 election victory. Yet Mr. Rouhani’s apparent unwillingness, or inability, to take a more assertive position reflected what rights advocates called part of a broader cultural struggle in Iran and the entrenched power of conservative ideologues. Many of them see social media as a path to Western decadence and moral decay.
“Every day the hard-liners are coming up with new ways to go after social networking sites,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group.
Rights activists who have been in contact with the families of the six dancers reported on Friday that the video’s director, Sassan Soleimani, had been moved from police detention to a prison outside Tehran and placed in solitary confinement, a strong indication that he would be prosecuted.
They also reported that five of the families were under pressure by prosecutors to file a lawsuit against Mr. Soleimani and Ms. Taravati, apparently to portray them as ringleaders who had deceived the others into making the video.
In another sign of harsher censorship, the Mehr News Agency quoted the deputy commander of the Iranian National Police, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Radan, as saying there would be no suspension of an enforcement policy aimed at ensuring women correctly follow the Islamic dress code, with their hair covered by a hijab, or headscarf.
“The moral security scheme will be implemented as before, and no one can suspend it with an order or instruction,” General Radan was quoted as saying. “The scheme will continue to be implemented so long as this condition has not reached the state that we expect.”
Reverberations over the video came as the United States Treasury, which enforces the American government’s financial sanctions against Iran, announced that it had added a top Iranian security official to its blacklist for “censorship and other activities that limit the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly of Iran’s citizens.”
A Treasury announcement said the official, Morteza Tamaddon, now the head of the Tehran Provincial Public Security Council, was the former governor general of Tehran Province, who was responsible for repressions of the political protests that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election, including the cutoff of mobile telephone communications. Sanctioned individuals cannot have any dealings with Americans, and any assets they may have under United States jurisdiction are frozen.
Mr. Tamaddon is the third Iranian official to be sanctioned by the Treasury for censorship and other violations of free expression in the past few years. In February of last year, the Treasury blacklisted Ezzatollah Zarghami, the director of Iran’s state broadcast service, and in November 2012 it blacklisted Reza Taghipour, the minister of communications and information technology.
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(via NY Times)