Baray, the title of a song by Shervin Hajipour, means “for” or “because” in Farsi. The lyrics that this 25-year-old musician, one of the most popular in Iran, wrote inspired by 31 messages that other Iranians had posted on social networks, says: “For dancing in the streets”, “for every time we were afraid to kiss to our lovers”, “for our sisters” and “for women, life and liberty”. That letter has become the anthem of the protests that have been going through Iran since mid-September, but its author was arrested in early October. Iranian authorities then forced him to delete his song from social media before releasing him on bail and reducing him to silence. As it did with this musician, the Iranian regime is trying to silence the loudspeaker that the support of actors and athletes represents for the protesters. They haven’t quite succeeded: This Friday, social networks released a video showing Parmida Ghasemi, of the Iranian national archery team, removing her veil during an awards ceremony in Tehran.
Two days earlier, actress Taraneh Alidoosti had posted a photo on Instagram without a veil and holding a sign with the slogan “woman, life and freedom” written in Kurdish. The publication of the famous protagonist of the traveler, Oscar for best foreign language film in 2016, was released on the same day as a video showing members of the men’s national water polo team in silence while the official Iranian anthem was played, before a match against South Korea, in a tournament in Bangkok (Thailand). The gesture of these athletes not to sing the anthem was interpreted as another show of support for the protesters. For Iranians critical of the regime, that anthem, adopted in 1990, is not theirs, but “that of the Islamic Republic”, explains Sara Sangsefidi, an Iranian exile in Spain, who considers that the “authentic anthem” of the Iranians It is the one that was in force until 1979, when the current Islamic regime was established.
The Iranian national beach soccer team was also silent on Monday as the anthem was played ahead of the beach soccer intercontinental cup semifinal in Dubai. According to some social network users, state television then interrupted the live broadcast of the match. The Iranians later won the final against Brazil, but did not celebrate the victory. One of his players, Saeed Piramoon, did celebrate one of his goals. He did so by pretending to grab a ponytail above his head and cut it off with scissors, as many Iranian women have done in the demonstrations that led to the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini on September 16. The 22-year-old had been arrested three days earlier for showing part of her hair under her veil, which is mandatory in Iran. Since that day, at least 304 Iranians have been killed in the crackdown, according to the human rights organization Iran Human Rights.
In the almost two months that the demonstrations have lasted, perhaps the athlete whose case has attracted the most international attention has been Elnaz Rekabi, the climber who competed without a veil in Seoul on October 16 and whose fate after returning to Tehran is unknown. After remaining untraceable for 48 hours, Rekabi apologized and attributed her gesture to a mistake, while Iranian media in exile reported that her brother had disappeared in Iran.
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Other Iranian athletes and artists who have supported the protests but are less well known outside the country face consequences that are even more serious than the threat of jail. This is the case of rapper Toomaj Salehi, 32, and two of his friends: boxing champion Mohammad Reza Nikraftar and kickboxer Najaf Abu Ali, arrested with him on October 29. Salehi had rapped about the “crime of letting hair blow in the wind” and was jailed on charges of having played “a key role in creating, inviting and fomenting riots”, according to the official IRNA news agency. For those charges, he could be sentenced to death.
Two other rappers, Emad Ghavidel and Saman Yasin, also ended up behind bars for supporting the protests. After being released on bail, the former denounced torture on Instagram, including having his teeth knocked out. Yasin also suffered physical and mental torture during his detention, according to the Kurdish human rights organization Hengaw. Like some of the between 14,000 and 18,000 people who have been detained since September 16, according to human rights organizations, these musicians could end up hanged.
Faced with these public demonstrations of support for the protests by celebrities, the Iranian authorities oscillate between imposing serious criminal charges or denial. This Wednesday, Iran’s Deputy Sports Minister, Maryam Kazemipour, acknowledged to the country’s official media that some athletes “had acted against Islamic norms”, but later downplayed this fact by stating that the athletes “had apologized for it”. At the opposite extreme, the provincial governor of Tehran, Mohsen Mansouri, threatened that the regime “would take action against the celebrities who have fanned the flames of the unrest”, in a statement to the semi-official ISNA agency. The head of the Iranian judiciary, Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, reproached these celebrities for “after becoming famous thanks to the support of the system”, they had “joined the enemy”.
“These celebrities are an example for many people. When actresses and athletes take off their veils, they send a political message. It is not about religion, but about saying no to official policies, ”says Kayvar, another Iranian resident in Spain who identifies himself only by his name. Ella’s compatriot Sangsefidi assures that the demonstrations of celebrity support for the protests make her “very happy”.
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