Security forces arrested seven fashion models in late January, according to unconfirmed reports on social media. Six of the seven arrested were women, and all had posted photographs of themselves not wearing hijab on their Instagram pages. On February 2, there were reports that more models had been arrested, though these arrests are also unconfirmed.
The models have been named as Melikaa Zamani, Niloofar Behboudi, Donya Moghadam, Dana Nik, Shabnam Molavi, Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei.
Authorities and family members of the models have not confirmed or denied the arrests, which were thought to have taken place about a week ago. Two of the models, married couple Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei, were allegedly released a few days ago and fled the country on January 30.
All seven have been very active on social media, including Instagram. Although the arrests could be linked directly to the photographs they posted, there has also been speculation that their sheer popularity online has angered authorities.
Iran’s New Criminals: Fashion Models
Catwalk, Iranian Style: Striking a pose, pouty lips and sassy attitude have been outlawed in Iran. Models are the latest group to be targeted by the Iranian government, joining journalists, religious and ethnic minorities, and activists.Posted by Journalism Is Not a Crime on Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei
The Instagram pages of Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei are currently still online. There have been a string of comments on their pages over the past week, many of them asking why they had taken down certain photographs, and why they had not uploaded any new posts.
In addition to working as a model, Elnaz Golrokh is a beautician who runs a popular salon in northern Iran. More than 500,000 people follow her on Instagram. Hamid Fadaei is one of Iran’s most famous male models, and works for the Iranian apparel company Fila. He has over 100,000 fans on Instagram.
According to reports, authorities released Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei on bail and they have since left Iran. Though neither have publicly stated what happened to them, on Sunday, January 30, Elnaz Golrokh addressed her fans and supporters on social media. “Before anything else, I am sorry that during this time I have not been able to return the calls made by you dear friends,” she posted. “Unfortunately for the moment I will not be active in Iran, but I will continue my work outside Iran. Thanks for your support and your positive energy. I love you.”
Rumors of the arrest were met with surprise, as Golrokh and Fadaei were not considered to be particularly controversial. Other models have been more risqué in terms of what they post online, including Niloofar Behboudi, who was also arrested. The couple regularly post photographs of themselves online, but the majority of these photos were not thought to be likely to have angered authorities.
Hamid Fadaei ran an upscale women’s apparel store in northern Tehran and used his Instagram page to adversise it, and to promote fashionable Iranian designer brands like Masihzad.
Elnaz Golrokh became famous for her bridal makeup artistry and fashion taste, and her beauty page on Instagram is extremely popular, attracting positive comments from fans, including brides who either employed Golrokh to do makeup for their wedding or used her online tips to do their own. Some people asked her for her address and phone number once news got out that she had been detained. The page was updated on Sunday, saying Golrokh had left the country. Following this, fans expressed their sorrow that she had been forced to leave.
Too Many Fans?
Melikaa Zamani, Niloofar Behboudi and Donya Moghadam were also regular users of Instagram, each attracting more than 100,000 followers. But these personal accounts have now been removed, with only pages run by their fans remaining. News of their arrests and queries about their lost pages have populated fan pages in recent days. While Golrokh and Fadaei have had the chance to make contact with their public, less is known about Zamani, Behboudi and Moghadam.
One fan who has been posting on Melikaa Zamani’s page told IranWire: “I heard the news, but we can’t really trust it. But if they themselves or their families do not talk about it then it shows that they do not want to make whatever it is public.”
“Assume that I got the news from their friends,” posted another fan. “I am certain that they have been arrested and I know that this is why Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei left Iran.” Others on the site pushed for more answers. “If people have too many followers, it makes the authorities nervous,” he said. “I think this is the reason they were summoned and arrested.” He did not elaborate.
Photographs of 25-year-old Melikaa Zamani, a tall woman with beautiful, striking eyes, can still be viewed on her fan page on Instagram, though her own page is blocked. On the fan page, she appears in a variety of outfits created by Iranian designers. Stylists regularly paid her to advertise their work. In some photographs, Zamani appears in a bridal outfit; in others, she wears a manteau with a headscarf. She had also appeared in a number of rap music videos and made a short film of herself taking part in the global Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, in 2015. These videos also feature on Zamani’s fan page.
Donya Moghadam’s personal page has also been blocked, though her fan page remains up — with many asking what has happened to her other page. The 26-year-old Moghadam has a BA in dress design and has modeled a variety of outfits, from formal evening dresses and décolletage to advertisements for Iranian shawls. Her fans regularly point out her resemblance to Angelina Jolie.
Of the seven arrested, Niloofar Behboudi is perhaps the most controversial. Like the others, her personal page has been blocked, but fan pages remain active. She has been more active on Facebook than the others — behavior bound to attract attention from the security services. In recent years, a number of people have been arrested in connection with their Facebook activity.
Behboudi has also generally been more interested in posting videos and talking about her private life online. She had presented a young man named Ali as her partner; he was pictured next to her in photographs and appeared on videos with her on an Instagram page that had already been blocked at the time of her arrest. Niloofar had spoken out against the filtering, and appealed to her fans to use circumvention tools to visit her new address on Instagram.
Niloofar Behboudi has faced some criticism, accused of being ostentatious because of the number of photographs and videos she publishes of herself. Some compared her to Amir Tataloo, an underground singer with many fans — but also plenty of enemies. Tataloo spent some time outside Iran and was arrested when he returned to the country on December 3, 2013. Upon his release, he appeared to do a sudden U-turn. These days, he is a public supporter of the regime.
Shabnam Molavi is also thought to have been released on bail, and her Instagram is also blocked. The model, who was born in 1985, turned to modeling after studying photography and cinematography, and trained with Mahla Zamani, one of Iran’s most famous modeling coaches. She once told the US magazine FSHN that when she talked to models about posing in front of the camera, she suddenly wished she could change places with them. She modeled for Erica Manteaux and was one of the first Iranian women to appear on a billboard.
Molavi shot to fame after she posed in a range of different outfits at a variety of locations across Tehran for FSHN magazine in 2013. Persian-language sites later translated and published details about the shoot. Unsurprisingly, she came under attack from hardliners, who accused her of showing off. Fans wanting to view images of her have been able to do so by accessing her fan page or by using the hashtag #shabnammolavi. As with the other models, fans have expressed their concern about her on the comments section of her fan page on Instagram.
The recent arrests suggest the Iranian government has found a new group to target — along with journalists, activists, and religious and ethnic minorities. And the fear among their fans is palpable. After all, they have witnessed what happens to people who practice their right to free expression online. And now it is happening to people they have admired and followed on a regular basis, bringing the fear one step closer to their own lives.