Iranian celebrities have been voicing their support for the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement through their social media accounts, many of which have millions of followers. This has posed a challenge to the Islamic Republic, whose officials have blamed them for "fanning the flames of the riots."
Eight days after the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Tehran police, which triggered the ongoing wave of anti-government protests, judiciary head Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei declared that those who became famous "thanks to the support" of the Islamic Republic have "joined the enemy."
Ejei was referring to well-known sports figures, artists and other celebrities who had expressed support for the protest movement.
Mehdi Yarahi, the singer and composer of the protest song “Sorud Zan,” published a decree on Twitter on March 13 showing that less than a month after the wave of protests kicked off, the judiciary banned several artists from having financial dealings.
The measure targeted Yarahi, who defiantly said he was “satisfied with my crime," and other famous artists including Asghar Farhadi, Keyhan Kalhor and Taraneh Alidoosti.
The individuals listed in the decree had only published one social media post expressing sadness and disgust over Amini’s death.
Farhadi, an internationally acclaimed film director, took to Instagram to denounce the killing of the 22-year-old woman as a crime, while Alidoosti wrote, "Damn this captivity."
Kalhor also protested Amini’s death on Instagram and expressed support for the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement.
In the following weeks, these artists strongly reacted to the authorities’ bloody crackdown on the protests, but their initial remarks were relatively mild.
In an attempt to normalize the situation amid weeks of nationwide protests, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in December threatened singers and music producers to be banned from leaving the country if they didn’t release new songs.
By imposing travel bans and other restrictions, the Islamic Republic not only enacts revenge on defiant artists, but also tries to intimidate others who have not released new work or performed in public after the start of the protests.
Sociologist Mehrdad Darvishpour told IranWire that repressive measures against celebrities are part of a strategy aimed at instilling terror and fear of revenge among Iranians.
Darvishpour cited the killing of more than 520 demonstrators and the illegally detention of over 20,000 people since the start of the pro-democracy protests, as well as the brutal repression of demonstrations triggered by a wave of poisonings at girls’ schools, which he called "revenge” for schoolgirls having been at the forefront of the months-long unrest.
"The purpose of these actions was to instill terror and fear of revenge among the people, make them feel hopeless and the government appear unpredictable," he said.
The sociologist added that the ban imposed on celebrities is “another attempt to take revenge and create more terror, as the punishment of these celebrities sends a clear message to society.”
Well-known writer and cinema director Manijeh Hekmat announced on February 25 she had been banned from working and having financial dealings.
Hekmat, who has undergone multiple surgeries due to illness, appealed to the public for financial support, saying on Twitter, "Brothers, please help pay for my rent, medical expenses, and daily needs. I have reached the end of the line."