A young couple have been sentenced by an Iranian court to more than a decade in prison each after posting a video of themselves dancing in front of a major Tehran landmark, according to a U.S.-based human rights group and Britain’s BBC News.
The Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) said Iranian security forces “violently” arrested Astiyazh Haghighi, 21, and her fiancé Amir Ahmadi, 22, at their home in Tehran on Nov. 1, 2022, soon after they published a video on social media showing them dancing in a city square with the Azadi (Freedom) Monument in the background.
HRANA said a court in Tehran handed them both prison sentences of 10 years and six months after convicting them on charges including “encouraging corruption and public prostitution,” and “gathering with the intention of disrupting national security.”
The couple was also barred from using the internet and from leaving Iran for two years, a period which presumably would begin after their incarceration.
The BBC said its sources had confirmed the Nov. 1 arrests, which came after the couple posted the video to both of their Instagram accounts, which together have about 2 million followers. The video appeared to have been deleted from their accounts, but it has been widely shared by others on various social media platforms.
The Mizan news website, a mouthpiece of Iran‘s judiciary, said the pair were detained not for dancing, but for online activities that included “encouraging people to riot against the country and subversion.”
“Astiazh Haghighi and Amir Mohammad Ahmadi had published a call for a rally on November 4 and called for riots on their Instagram pages,” the statement alleges. “During the riots, they used their page to advertise calls, including the call for November 4.”
Iranian security forces have cracked down mercilessly on anyone joining, or even deemed supportive of nationwide anti-government protests that erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s “Morality Police.” She was detained over an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s strict clothing rules for women.
At least four people have been executed after convictions related to the protests, and hundreds were swept up in mass-arrests. According to HRANA, at least 506 people have been killed in the Iranian authorities’ violent crackdown on the protests, which have died down in recent months.
While Haghighi and Ahmadi’s social media clip merely showed two young people dancing happily and included no overt reference to the protests or Iran’s hardline Islamic cleric rulers, dancing itself is illegal in the conservative nation.
In a report published just several days before the pair’s sentencing emerged, BBC News spoke to Iranian DJs who explained that dancing, especially to modern or Western-style music, had become an act of protest against the regime in and of itself.