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The Arrest of Iran’s Instagram “Zombie Star”

October 8, 2019
Shima Shahrabi
4 min read
Last year, to counter rumors about the surgery she had undergone, Sahar Tabar posted photos of herself without her zombie make-up
Last year, to counter rumors about the surgery she had undergone, Sahar Tabar posted photos of herself without her zombie make-up
Promotion of violence, insulting the sacred, and insulting the Islamic hijab are among the charges Sahar Tabar faces
Promotion of violence, insulting the sacred, and insulting the Islamic hijab are among the charges Sahar Tabar faces

With her multi-colored hair, pouting lips, upturned nose, sunken eyes and grey complexion, “Sahar Tabar" has made a name for herself as a life-sized Halloween zombie doll. She entertains her 200,000 or so followers on Instagram with her scary make-up and by singing or lip-synching her favorite songs, as well as her posts of paid-for content. Toward the end of most of her videos she screams and falls to the floor, and in some clips she can be seen carrying a small axe.

But on Saturday, October 5, Tasnim News Agency reported that “Fatemeh K.” — a.k.a. Sahar Tabar (or "axe")— had been arrested. The Ershad (“Guidance”) Courthouse, which is responsible for prosecuting violators of public morality, was behind the arrest, the agency said, following on from alleged public complaints to the court about her behavior. Her Instagram page was also blocked at the time of her arrest. 

Earlier this year, the judiciary urged the public to get in touch with Ershad Courthouse regarding any “transgressions” or violations of moral and behavioral codes of the Islamic Republic they witnessed, advertising the courthouse’s phone number so people could call and provide relevant information.

According to Tasnim, Sahar Tabar has been arrested as a result of these phone calls from the public. Charges against her include promotion of violence, financial gains by ill-gotten means, insulting the sacred, insulting the Islamic hijab, promotion of religiously-forbidden acts and encouraging young people to engage in corruption. The evidence for the charges has not been made public.

Since the arrest on October 5, Persian-language social media has been buzzing with the news and rumors.

But it’s not the first time the zombie Instagram star has come to public attention, and she had routinely generated discussions about the amount of plastic surgery she’s had — with some saying she had undergone up to 50 surgeries in a failed attempt to look like Angelina Jolie — as well as her suspected anorexia and the extreme diets she has gone on to bring her weight down to 40 kilograms. Foreign media also took notice, and one German newspaper published a photograph of her as an example of plastic surgery gone wrong.

Not everyone who followed Sahar Tabar on Instagram approved of her. She often complained about the rude insults and obscene comments she received on Instagram. “I don’t know how people who do not know me can judge me by one picture and curse me,” she wrote in one post. “Never in my life have I invited controversy. I just like this lifestyle.”

In 2018, in response to the increasing number of rumors about her, Sahar Tabar posted photographs of herself not wearing her zombie make-up — a stark contrast to what her followers were used to seeing. Her captions explained that, yes, she had had liposuction and a nose job, but that the dramatic photos and videos she normally posted were simply enhanced by make-up or Photoshop.


“The government is afraid of people with many followers”

“I really don’t know what crime Sahar has committed,” a man who runs a page dedicated to Sahar Tabar, and who republishes her pictures, told IranWire. “She is a 22-year-old woman, is an artist and thinks differently...She appeared before the camera with weird make-up and Photoshopped her pictures. She had her own followers, but this government is scared of people who have many followers.“

The Islamic Republic’s “moral” authorities have targeted Instagram users before. They have arrested people in connection with their posts, and also called on Iranian female Instagrammers to take down photos showing them not wearing the Islamic veil, forcing some of them to post the mantra “Follower of Islamic Republic Laws” to their profile and promise that any future posts would feature them wearing hijab.

“They were threatened that they would be arrested and their pages would be blocked,” the person who runs the Sahar Tabar page told IranWire. “These pages are the source of income for many of them and they receive millions of tomans for each commercial posting.” According to him, Sahar Tabar received 10 million tomans [$860] for each commercial post she published.

Has he met Sahar personally, I asked him? “No,” he says. “But I like her work. The only thing I know about her is her real name. It is Fatemeh Khishvandi — this was in a comment by a classmate of hers on one of her postings. Yesterday, when I saw [in the news] that she was called Fatemeh K., I knew that she really was her classmate.”

“Sahar’s arrest only proves the [extent of the] government’s interference in people’s lifestyles,” he added. “They say: ‘I don’t like the make-up and the behavior of somebody so I am going to arrest that person.’ But she has done nothing to deserve prison. She only wanted to live the way she liked.”


Related Coverage:

Supermodel Says Farewell to the Islamic Republic, April 18, 2018

The Battle Against Models and “Cultural Infiltration”, March 10, 2017

Iran Continues its Crackdown on Models and Fashion Photographers, November 16, 2016

Kim Kardashian, the Infiltrator, May 2016

Censoring Fashion, Religious Sensibilities and Female “Virtues”, May 2016

Revolutionary Guards Launch “Spider” Attacks against Models on Instagram, March 2016

Iran’s New Criminals: Fashion Models, February 2016

Iranian Models’ “Qualification License” in Limbo, November 2015

The Trials and Tribulations of an Iranian Fashion Model, June 2015

The "I Love Hijab" Instagram Campaign, September 11, 2015

The Islamic Catwalk, April 2014




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