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Iranian singer arrested as ministry announces work ban for ‘cultural activists’

Iran's flag (Dreamstime/TNS)
September 12, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Prominent Iranian pop singer Mehdi Yarrahi has been arrested following the release of an “illegal” song urging women to remove their mandatory head scarves as officials continue to clamp down on dissent ahead of the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini next month.

The official IRNA news agency reported on August 28 that Yarrahi’s arrest was ordered by the Tehran prosecutor over the release of the song Your Head Scarf, which was accompanied by a video showing women in various social settings without their head scarves, some dancing to the music. No further details on Yarrahi’s arrest were given.

The move came the same day a government official announced that “cultural activists” who have removed their hijab won’t be allowed to work in the country.

Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Mehdi Esmaeili told a meeting of ministry directors on August 28 that cultural activists “who act against national interests” will be banned from working in Iran.

“Anyone who has removed their hijab will not be permitted to work,” he said.

Esmaeili did not elaborate further, but he has previously said that actresses opposing the mandatory hijab, “would not be allowed to work in cinema” and that the removal of the hijab was a “red line” for his ministry.

Such acts of civil disobedience have increased in Iran since the death of the 22-year-old Amini while in custody of the morality police in September 2022 for an alleged head-scarf offense.

Violators of the hijab requirement can face up to two years in prison, although proposed legislation would increase the maximum sentence to up to three years for repeat offenders.

In July, Esmaeili’s deputy, Mohammad Hashemi, announced that the government had taken steps to prevent a film company from hiring an actress who had refused to wear the hijab.

While Hashemi did not provide her name, media reports suggested he was referring to 44-year-old Shaghayegh Dehghan, who was charged in June for posting a photo of herself without a hijab on social media.

While the protests appear to be waning, resistance to the hijab, or mandatory head scarf for women, is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state’s repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

Several cinematographers and prominent public figures have also been summoned by the police or arrested, including director Hamid Porazari.

Other celebrities, including prominent actresses Afsaneh Bayegan, Fatemeh Motamed-Arya, Katayon Riahi, and Pantea Bahram, have been interrogated and faced legal action after they made public appearances without wearing the mandatory hijab to show support for the protesters.