Celebrities face reprisals for supporting protests
Singers, actors, sports stars – the list goes on. Iranian celebrities have been startlingly public in their support for the massive anti-government protests shaking their country. And the ruling establishment is lashing back.
Celebrities have found themselves targeted for arrest, have had passports confiscated, and faced other harassment.
Among the most notable cases is that of singer Shervin Hajipour, whose song For … has become an anthem for the protest movement, which erupted on September 17 over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, after she was arrested for not abiding by the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code.
The song begins with a soft melody, then Hajipour’s resonant voice starts, “For dancing in the streets,” “for the fear we feel when we kiss …” – listing reasons young Iranians have posted on Twitter for why they are taking to the streets against the ruling theocracy.
It ends with the widely chanted slogan that has become synonymous with the protests: “For women, life, freedom.”
Released 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 expanded from anger at Amini’s death to a complete challenge to the 43-year-old rule by conservative Islamic clerics – a string of celebrities have faced reprisals, from singers and soccer players to news anchors.
At least seven public figures have been detained inside the country, most of whom were released on bail and could face charges, according to Iranian news outlets. Others were questioned and released.
But their popularity has also made it difficult to crack down too hard on them — in contrast to protest 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, an Iranian-American non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the attempts to intimidate public figures were no surprise.
“Celebrities – be it athletes, actors, singers or artists – have a large following inside Iran, particularly on social media, and their support gives life to these protests,” she said.