Iran's theocratic, authoritarian regime has shocked the world many times before. Iran is a country with highly conservative religious traditions but in a world of social media, ever changing social trends and creative thinking teens, not all of these traditions align with the growing progressivism of Iran's young people.
Last week, Maedeh Hobjari, an eighteen year old girl was arrested, interrogated and forced to confess on live television as if she were a criminal. The teen was arrested for posting videos of herself dancing on Instagram. Despite the fact that she used no words which went against Iran's regime, she was still treated as an opposition to the country's conservative Islamic values. Ms Hobjari frequently posted videos of herself to her 43,000 followers on Instagram, just as any other teenage would. A particular video of her in a black long-sleeved top was viewed more than a million times a day, and received attention not only from her followers and fans, but from those looking to put young girls like Hojbari away.
Many people have questioned whether or not Hobjari was breaking the law, but according to Islamic law in Iran ‘public dancing is prohibited’. As well as this, in many of her videos she appears without her mandatory headscarf, which is seen as a must in the Islamic republic. Although these are written and established laws, many people disagreed with the ruling and the treatment that she and many other young women have received. The arrest has led to a large outcry and a surprising sense of reactionary unity amongst the women of Iran. Over the past few days, many Iranian women have been posting videos of themselves dancing in support for the arrested teen.
I was able to gain knowlege on this story through a young Iranian man who would like to be addressed as Snsr9. After discussing Hojbari and the recent injustice she has been subjected to, I asked if it would be possible to interview him, in order for discuss his views on the situation, as well what life is like for a young Iranian. His immediate response was the following: “If I have an interview with you they will find me and interrogate me, and maybe they’ll arrest me too.” Although Snsr9 refused to be interviewed out of fear for his own safety, he gave me permission to share our conversation on social media, as as well for me to share the effects our conversation on me as a young Zimbabwean born, British bred journalist.
Having grown up in Britain for most of my life, I have been given the freedom to express both my emotions and creativity, although at times, as a black woman, I may not have had the privilege of receiving much attention or applaud for this. But it cannot be denied that I still have the ability to speak up on issues without the great fear of being ‘lashed’ or imprisoned. To think that something as minor as dancing in public can be considered an offence, enough to warrant 80 lases and 4 years in prison is beyond my comprehension. Not only does it baffle me but deeply saddens me as a young woman who uses social media so frequently and freely. These young people are being denied the opportunity to simply express themselves, something which many of us here in the west take for granted.
In an article written by Azadeh Moaveni on the ‘Arrest over the Happy dance video in Iran reflect hardliners frustration’, Moaveni poignantly pointed out that: “This is more a bitter contest for power among the regimes political elites than any genuine social divide”. Maedeh's arrest seems to signal the Iranian state's insecurity at the lack of control they have over the younger generation. As emphasised by Azadeh, most young Iranians watch western movies, have adapted to the freer thinking way of the modern age. But the copious number of repressive laws posessed by the Iranian state could be used to gain back control over this new progressive generation.
As a writer, my conversation with Snsr9 has been very humbling. I am here to do a service for these people: to be the voice for the voiceless. These young people are subject to very strict rules that limit their most basic freedoms. Although some have possibly conformed to the social norms of this repressive society, it seems that Iran's younger generation simply want to break free from the cages of conformity and simply be themselves. Because of this I believe we (those with the ability to speak up) have a responsibility to be the voice that spreads what is happening. We cannot have the mentality that because it is not on our door step, we shouldn't pay attention.