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Politics

Journalists and Celebrities Targeted as Iran Protests Continue

October 3, 2022
Akhtar Safi
4 min read
Numerous activists, lawyers and journalists have been arrested for what security officials describe as "fanning the flames of the riots", such as Shervin Hajipour, who wrote a song for the protests
Numerous activists, lawyers and journalists have been arrested for what security officials describe as "fanning the flames of the riots", such as Shervin Hajipour, who wrote a song for the protests

Iranian officials have intensified a crackdown against journalists and celebrities as the chaotic nationwide unrest entered week three, following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.

Numerous activists, lawyers and journalists have been arrested for what security officials describe as "fanning the flames of the riots" after well-known Iranian public figures voiced their support online for the new wave of anti-government protests.

"We will take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the riots," said Tehran provincial governor Mohsen Mansouri. Iran's judiciary chief Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei similarly declared that "those who became famous thanks to support from the system have joined the enemy when times are hard."

Shervin Hajipour, an Iranian singer and the artist behind a popular protest song "For..." was arrested last week. His song has been played by protesters on streets across Iran as well as during anti-government protests in London, Toronto, Berlin, Sydney and numerous other cities around the world.

The video of the song "For..." ("Baraye" in Persian), was viewed more than 34 million times in less than two days on Hajipour’s Instagram page. The song consists of angry anti-government tweets and slogans posted by Iranians after news of Amini’s death on September 16.

Hajipour previously posted that "The lyrics of this song were written by you to relieve your pain." A short clip he posted in which he plays the guitar and reads aloud some of the tweets included in the song has since been posted on several other platforms and has been gaining attention around the world.

Alborz Nezami, a journalist with the Donya-e-Eghtesad newspaper, was the latest journalist to be arrested by Iranian police on Sunday afternoon. 

"One of my worst days as a journalist," said a colleague of Nezami at the newspaper. "They have arrested our colleague, Alborz Nezami, before the eyes of [everyone] in the newsroom."

His cousin has also confirmed the news. Nezami, 31, is also a current MA in Economics student at the University of Tehran.

Other well-known figures detained over the past few days include football star Hossein Mahini. The former player for the Iranian Persepolis football team was arrested on Thursday after a court order was issued against him for his social media posts supporting the protests.

The ongoing crackdown against celebrities includes the tearing down of a statue of football legend Ali Karimi, known as the “magician of football”, after he used his social media accounts to voice his support for the protesters. Videos posted online show protesters spraying his name on the empty plinth in response.

Further celebrities have had their passports and properties confiscated by the Islamic Republic's security officials for voicing their support for the ongoing protests.

The official Instagram page of Iranian actress Katayoun Riahi, who was quick to show her support for the protesters, posted that an arrest warrant had been issued for the actress and that Iranian security forces had raided her house. 

“Some in the state media and the government are now saying that celebrities have fanned the flames of these sad events. Why would you lie to the people?” Ehsan Karami, an actor and a former prime-time TV host, said in a video.

The arrests come after Iranian authorities severely restricted Internet access and blocked sites including Instagram and WhatsApp. Activists say the government’s aim is to prevent details of the protests from reaching the outside world.

"By targeting journalists amid a great deal of violence after restricting access to WhatsApp and Instagram, the Iranian authorities are sending a clear message that there must be no coverage of the protests," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

Among the dozens of journalists who have so far been detained, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), are photojournalist Yalda Moaiery, who won international recognition in 2019 for an iconic photograph of protests, and reporter Niloofar Hamedi, who helped expose Amini’s case by going to the hospital where she was in a coma.

Nationwide protests are ongoing as eyewitnesses from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran said that security forces stormed the campus on Sunday evening. Students were beaten and fired at with shotguns.

The new round of anti-government protests was sparked by the death in police custody of Amini who was arrested for allegedly not wearing her hijab properly and violating the country's strict dress code.

Women in Iran have been seen burning their hijabs and headscarves in the street, as well as filming themselves cutting their hair. Around the world, people are voicing their support for women's rights in solidarity with Iranian women.

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