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Iran imprisons couple for 10½ years after they danced in public, activists say

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/1/2023 Rachel Pannett
A boy carries an Iranian flag in front of the Azadi monument in Tehran. © Vahid Salemi/AP A boy carries an Iranian flag in front of the Azadi monument in Tehran.

An Iranian couple have been jailed for more than 10 years each after a video of them dancing romantically near a Tehran monument was posted on social media, according to the activist news agency HRANA.

Astiaj Haghighi and Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, Instagram influencers who are reportedly in their early 20s, were arrested by security forces at home in November, the activist group said.

They were sentenced by a Tehran court to 10½ years in prison each for “promotion of impurity and indecency, assembly and collusion against national security, and propaganda against the regime.”

The court also restricted them from using social media and barred them from leaving the country for two years.

Their imprisonment comes amid a broader crackdown by Iran’s theocratic government in a bid to extinguish a months-long uprising calling for its ouster. The protests broke out mid-September following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in police custody after she allegedly violated the country’s conservative dress code for women. The demonstrators also include people with grievances over mass poverty, corruption and state-sponsored violence.

Women and young people are playing a central role in the movement. In some cities, women have taken off their headscarves and set them on fire, in an act of defiance against the ruling Islamists. (Haghighi was not wearing a headscarf in the video of the couple dancing that circulated.) Others have cut their hair in public.

At the heart of Iran’s crackdown, a small group of judges sentences protesters to hang

At least 14,000 people, including children, have been arrested during the protests, the United Nations said in November, adding that by a “conservative” estimate, more than 300 people have been killed. HRANA also estimates that Iran has issued at least 22 death sentences and charged more than 100 people with capital offenses.

The crackdown has drawn international condemnation and heightened scrutiny of Iran’s human rights record. In January, the United States imposed sanctions on an organization linked to the crackdown, in the ninth such move since the uprising began.

In the latest case, video footage shows the couple twirling in front of the Azadi Tower, which became a symbol of freedom during the 1979 Islamic revolution. There are prohibitions on women dancing in public, particularly with a man. Haghighi also was not wearing a headscarf, the mandatory hair covering for Iranian women.

At one point, Haghighi leaps into her dance partner’s arms, clasping her arms around his neck. Her hair hangs loose and flowing as he spins her around — a gesture viewed as symbolic by some supporters of the protest movement.

Roham Alvandi, an expert on Iran at the London School of Economics, said the incident indicated the Islamic Republic was under pressure. “Only a regime that is weak and terrified of its own people would jail a young couple for dancing,” he wrote on Twitter.

HRANA said the couple were denied access to a lawyer during the trial, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the proceedings. The group said Haghighi was detained after her arrest in a facility east of Tehran that has been criticized by human rights groups for its poor health and sanitary conditions.


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