On April 24, Iranian pop singer Amir Tataloo posted messages on Instagram inviting underage girls to join his “personal harem.” Instagram staff tasked with reviewing harmful content deemed the posts to be illegal and the next day, Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, blocked Tataloo’s account. "The safety of [our] members is our top priority, and we do not tolerate content that abuses or endangers children,” a spokesperson for Facebook told reporters. “We have blocked Amir Tataloo's account for violating our policies, and he will no longer be allowed to appear on Instagram."
On Wednesday, April 29, a new account under the name Mammad11228 was created, where it was announced that Amir Tataloo had returned to Instagram. In less than a day, the account attracted more than a million followers. But on Thursday, April 30, Instagram blocked this page too.
After screen grabs of Tataloo’s posts inviting children to have sex with him were published on social media, I followed the story as a reporter for IranWire. I contacted several Iranian and Turkish journalists, activists and lawyers in Turkey, sent them copies of the posts along with translations of them, and then posted about it on my own Twitter and Instagram accounts [Persian link].
At the same time, Tataloo went on to his official page to directly attack and sexually insult and harass Azadeh Akbari, a human rights activist and one of the first people to protest against the singer’s Instagram posts. ARTICLE 19, an international freedom of expression and digital rights organization, and Kandoo Organization, a non-profit that provides digital security and privacy rights support to vulnerable communities, were informed of the developments. Mahsa Alimardani of ARTICLE 19 and Nima Fatemi of Kandoo, in cooperation with Azadeh Akbari and myself, gathered and translated Tataloo’s posts and brought the issue to the attention of Facebook.
The blocking of Amir Tataloo’s Instagram page became the subject of several news stories, and a range of interviews about the story were featured on Persian-language social media and TV networks. I received many messages from lawyers, journalists and women and children rights activists, who offered to follow up on the activities of the singer, who is based in Turkey. I also posted a call on Twitter and Instagram asking for anybody who had been harassed by Tataloo and his fans to let me know [Persian link].
I interviewed several people who claimed they were harassed by Tataloo and his supporters even back when he was in Iran. Some said they were willing to talk to lawyers, while others chose to remain silent. I also received many messages that expressed support for Tataloo’s ban, as well as from those who said they were willing to donate money to help fund a legal action against him.
And just as I was receiving these messages, the harassment began — online abuse from Tataloo’s supporters and fans, who call themselves “Tatalities.” It started with swearwords and threats of rape on comment threads and via private messages and moved on to references to my genitals, death threats, including explicit threats from people who said they would set me on fire or chop me up. Little by little, members of my family were included in the threats as well. Tataloo’s supporters swore they would kill me, my sister and my son. They sent threatening messages to my son and continue to do so.
They found pictures of me and my son on Instagram and Twitter and used them to create fake accounts and continued with their sexual harassment and death threats. I notified the administrators of Instagram and Twitter about the accounts. I kept and took note of the messages and translated them and other messages and sent them to my lawyer in France, and also to groups in Turkey who were speaking out against Tataloo’s recent posts.
“It’s nobody else's business!”
While this was going on, Tataloo continued his remarks on other platforms, namely Telegram and YouTube. This time he emphasized that he would accept girls who were under 18 only if they showed him their passports! He then wrote: “Nine and 15-year-old ‘new faces’ should visit me with the permission of their parent. [Otherwise] it’s nobody else's business!”
In another post he said: “I want to marry a 15-year-old girl!” and accused the media of “pincer attacks,” all the while continuing with his obscenities.
After the media reported that his Instagram page had been blocked, Tataloo repeatedly announced that, considering what the media was saying about him, he would call his next song “Harem.” When he launched his new page on Instagram under an alias, he wrote that if his fans could drive up the number of his followers to one million, he would release his new song.
Within a few hours, his new Instagram page had over a million followers. “Yours truly is a Muslim and according to Islam I can have four wives and 40 concubines!,” he wrote on Instagram. “After the coronavirus, I will hold one wedding and marry them all at once! Until then the ladies can register so that they can be included in that list of 44!”
Facebook was notified of Tataloo’s new page and the company responded, pledging to review the page and take down any violent or obscene content. Meanwhile, arguments flared across the media and social networks — everything from the possibility that he could be arrested and extradited to Iran to the wider issue of freedom of expression.
Possibility of Arrest and Extradition
In my discussions with lawyers and activists, we all agreed that the possible extradition of Tataloo to Iran was a red line for us because the Islamic Republic’s judiciary is not qualified to pass judgment on defendants. At the moment, numerous human rights activists and journalists, as well as environmental and political activists, are imprisoned in Iran. Because the Islamic Republic recognizes the crime of what it calls “insulting the sacred” and due to clerics having issued fatwas labeling Tataloo a “heretic,” the Iranian judiciary may very well sentence him to death. Therefore, activists in Turkey and the lawyers we consulted agreed that extradition would be unacceptable.
Freedom of Expression
One of the most important and challenging issues people following the unfolding story discussed was freedom of expression and its limits. Many people said that blocking Tataloo’s page was a violation of the right to free expression, while others believed that, with more than four million followers, Tataloo could contribute to the normalization of violence against women and children. One recent study argues that social media — and especially Instagram — offer up environments where child abuse and pedophilia can thrive.
In Iran, all social media are filtered or blocked, except for Instagram — this in a country where, legally, girls over 13 can get married. Considering Amir Tataloo’s audience, ie Iranian society, it’s important to ask: What are the chances that young girls, especially from poor and vulnerable families, could fall into his trap, in the hopes that the fame, money and a free, unfettered life Tataloo seems to symbolize can be theirs for the taking? The question is valid even if they have their parents’ consent because, in Iran, a father can legally allow his daughters to marry, without any questions being asked.
While discussions about free speech, harm to children and grooming continued, in Turkey, another legal angle was being considered. Tülay Hatimoğulları, a member of the parliament from Adana in southern Turkey, asked the Ministry of Family and Social Policy what legal action could be taken against Tataloo short of his extradition to Iran. “We will take whatever legal action is necessary, both inside and outside the parliament and we will engage all feminist circles,” she told IranWire.
Meanwhile, a group of leftist feminists in Turkey have asked how far Turkish laws can be held responsible for Tataloo being allowed to engage in such behavior [Turkish link]. Some people have sent me messages, promising to follow the issue and get an indictment against him in Turkey.
It appears that the pursuit of legal action in Turkey is ongoing, and Iranians and others continue to discuss the issue on social media. For now, Amir Tataloo’s new Instagram page, which has attracted more than one million followers, has been blocked, but it is far from clear what might happen next. Threats and harassment online continue, as does my contact with activists in Turkey. But while all of this is going on, I can’t stop thinking of the big questions: How seriously is child abuse on social media taken? And how much should we worry that this violence and pathological worldview will become normalized by Tataloo’s army of followers, and for anyone who might be influenced by him?
Controversial Iranian Rapper Arrested in Turkey, 29 January 2020
The Ayatollah’s Favorite Pop Star, 25 July 2017
Iran Releases Rapper Amir Tataloo on Bail, 26 October 2016
Authorities Arrest Popular Singer Amir Tataloo, 24 August 2016