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Society & Culture

Tehran Police Crack Down on Summer Fun Gathering

June 9, 2016
Shima Shahrabi
4 min read
The scene outside Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran
The scene outside Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran
The scene outside Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran
The scene outside Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran
The scene inside Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran
The scene inside Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran

“Tehran Meetings” is the name of an Instagram page. It has more than 1,200 followers. Its pictures and meeting calendars have been shared across Facebook, Telegram, and other Instagram pages.

Two weeks ago, its younger members began voting on where to gather to celebrate the end of school exams. A week later, they chose Kurosh Shopping Mall in Tehran and scheduled the first meeting of their summer 2016 vacation. They planned to gather at 6pm on June 7, the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Pictures published afterwards show a large crowd as well as the numerous police cars that turned out to meet them. According to some reports, business at the mall was suspended. The Young Reporters Club, which is affiliated with Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), a state news agency, published a video of the gathering entitled “a crowd of transgressors.”

But despite the apparently tense atmosphere at the event, at least some of the participants had fun.

Saeed was one the participants. “The police came and ruined the meeting,” he tells me. But when I ask him whether he enjoyed himself, he answers, “a lot.” He and his friends were locked inside the mall when the place was shut down but managed to leave a few hours later when someone unlocked the back doors. “It was very enjoyable,” he says. “I work with elevators. My friends and I got in the elevator and stopped it between the floors. We laughed so much you wouldn’t believe it. The police did not even get a glimpse of us.”

What had they planned to do at the meeting? He laughs loudly. “It was a celebration! We had planned to have a water fight afterwards but the police came and dispersed everybody. But of course, a lot of people were roaming around. They moved around so much that eventually they were able to have the water fight.” Saeed says many of the participants had prepared for water games by bringing plastic water bottles.

Leila was another participant. “It was a mistake to choose Kurosh Mall. They should have chosen an open space like The Garden of Water and Fire,” she says, referring to a Tehran park that saw an almighty water fight, involving hundreds of people with water pistols, in 2011. But Leila had a good time, too. “We had our own gang,” she tells me. “We talked and laughed, but it would have been better if the place had been more suitable and we could have got to know more people.”

Leila and her friends dispersed when the police used tear gas. But, she says, the police did not bother the participants about how they were dressed – something young people in Iran are used to worrying about. “The people who arrived earlier and saw that there were police around and posted messages on Instagram saying that we should dress properly,” Leila says. Not everyone heeded the advice. "Many came in tights and manteaus that were open in front, but the police did not bother them about that. They just told us to disperse.”

In recent years, President Hassan Rouhani has criticized authorities’ overzealous enforcement of Iran’s Islamic dress code for women, which requires them to cover their hair and limbs, and disguise their figures with loose-fitting clothing.

Leila was disappointed there was no water fight. “We were supposed to go to a nearby park and play with water but some of the participants got into a quarrel and the plans were abandoned.”


“The Rebellious Generation”

Most people at the gathering were born in the 1990s or early 2000s. The day after the event, Iran’s Fars News Agency, which is affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, called them a “rebellious” generation raised by working parents and corrupted by satellite TV. The Fars report included a video in which its reporters interviewed two adolescent murders in Tehran’s juvenile rehabilitation center.

Leila herself was born in 1996, but she says many of those at the gathering were much younger than her – around 15 or 16.

Another gathering planned online is supposed to take place soon, but Leila is doubtful. “Probably today’s meeting will be canceled,” she says. “Because of what happened yesterday, nobody is going to Kurosh.” Instead, she plans to go to a water fight after breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening.

There is a notice about the water fight on the “Tehran Meetings” Instagram page asking members to vote for a suitable location. Such a gathering will not be risk-free. Around the time that the news about the Kurosh gathering was being published, another official outlet, Basij News, reported that police had broken up a mixed-sex “gathering of transgressors” in Karaj – a city on the western outskirts of Tehran -- over a water fight. Basij News also reported that the gathering had been planned on social media and that the “culprit” had been arrested.

I ask Leila if she is afraid now. “Why should we be afraid?” she says without hesitation. “We are not doing anything political. We just want to enjoy ourselves for a few hours. People have these kinds of celebrations all over the world.”




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