On July 23, women’s rights activists raised the alarm that the actress Nazanin Bahrami had been arrested. It came shortly after she had signed an 800-strong statement denouncing sexual abuse and violence in the film industry.
Reports have since circulated that Bahrami has been able to call her family, and that she was arrested by one of the morality patrols, not a security agency. But IranWire has now received information to the contrary, and understands Bahrami is being held by the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO).
According to eyewitnesses, Bahrami and several of her colleagues were detained at about 11am on Saturday, July 23, in Tehran’s Enghelab Avenue. Plainclothes agents surrounded the group, took their mobile phones and allowed the others to leave before taking Bahrami to an unknown location. During this exchange, they also filmed her and her companions.
The nature of the calls Bahrami has so far placed to family and friends have led to the suspicion that they are being monitored, or even that she has been made to read from a script. The Iranian judiciary and security agencies have yet to issue a formal comment on her case.
A source close to the case, who has asked not to be named, told IranWire Bahrami is one of at least four people arrested since May this year for “supporting Iranian #MeToo”. Though the global #MeToo campaign was a grassroots movement involving thousands of individual, mostly female victims of sexual abuse, without leadership, in Iran it is routinely framed by the regime as a foreign contrivance aimed at disrupting order.
The source declined to name the other three detainees, but said of Bahrami’s arrest: “Five male agents and one female were involved. During interrogations, IRGC operatives pressured Nazanin to confess to having ties to the #MeToo campaign, and in conversations with her family and friends, to deny that she had been taken into custody and blame the morality patrol.”
They also alleged that it was the security division of one of the theaters Bahrami had worked at that had contacted the IRGC about her. “On many occasions, she was seen discussing the importance of #MeToo in the theater.”
The editor of one prominent Persian-language #MeToo website wrote to IranWire to clarify their position on the matter. “#MeToo is a movement,” they wrote, “and this page and related activities are born from this movement, not the other way around.
“Anybody who, during theater rehearsals, from behind a school desk, in a family conversation or in a public interview, defends the idea of [gender] equality and the necessity of seeking justice, and believes that he or she is part of #MeToo, is indeed a member of the #MeToo movement.”
Other women have faced legal reprisal for speaking out against sexual violence in Iran. Mahmoud Masoumi, lead researcher for Iran Prison Atlas, reported on July 26 that activist Masoumeh Haji-Abolhassan had been sentenced to 15 months in prison and a cash fine of 20 million tomans for “participating in the #MeToo movement”.
The plaintiff in Haji-Abolhassan’s case was a man named Babak Molaei, a business partner of the IRGC. In 2020 Haji-Abolhassan had written about experiencing sexual abuse on her Instagram page, after which Molaei threatened to take her to court if she did not take it down.
The declaration by 800 Iranian women on sexual harassment, coercion and violence in the Iranian film industry described a litany of incidents at work, from unwanted physical contact to forced sexual acts, blackmail and extortion. Many kept quiet for fear of losing their jobs.
Somayeh Mirshamsi, a well-known assistant film director, had sparked its drafting after she went public about having been2 sexually harassed" and "treated violently" on the set by film star Farhad Aslani. She had been inspired to come forward, she wrote, by previous push-backs against abuse by other “anonymous women” in her industry.
On March 28, the Tehran Association of Film Assistant Directors issued a statement of its own affirming Mirshamsi's "honesty". It added: "This is not the first time psychological pressurizing and even physical threats and confrontations have taken place behind the scenes. Radical, serious and inter-union coordination will be needed to eradicate this subhuman behavior.”
Many of the signatories of the statement have gone on to face threats from either their alleged abusers or film industry bosses, as well as filmmakers working with the Islamic Republic. In a radio interview on July 7, Mohammad Hossein Farahbakhsh, a movie director and producer, called for the 800 signatories to be flogged.