In late January 2023, Iran’s judiciary sentenced both Astiyazh Haghighi and Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, a young couple in their early 20s, to five years in prison for posting a video dancing publicly. Haghighi was not wearing the mandatory hijab or headscarf in the video shot at the iconic Azadi (Freedom) Tower in Tehran. The sentences reflected the draconian government crackdown on dissent amid nationwide protests that erupted in September 2022. The demonstrations were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman detained for “improper hijab.” After Amini’s death, young women across the country removed and burned their headscarves in defiance of theocratic rule.
Haghighi, a fashion designer and blogger, and her fiancée posted the video in late October and were reportedly detained in early November 2022. They had some two million followers across both of their social media accounts. A revolutionary court subsequently convicted them of “promoting corruption and prostitution,” “colluding against national security,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” Haghighi and Ahmadi were reportedly denied lawyers.
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The judiciary charged that the couple engaged in “subversion” and “encouraging people to riot.” Women are not allowed to dance in public in the Islamic Republic. Haghighi was held at the notorious Qarchak prison for women. She had posted about earlier encounters with the Morality Police. “They put me into the van. I will never forget the fear — I was trembling,” she said in September 2022. “But this was nothing compared to the stress I feel every day when I receive their anonymous calls.” Ahmadi was held at Tehran's Evin prison.
The judiciary has targeted people who appeared in earlier viral videos. In September 2014, it sentenced six to six months in prison and 91 lashes for appearing in a video singing along to Pharrell William’s “Happy.” The director of the video was sentenced to a year in prison in addition to the lashes. The three women—without headscarves—and three men danced and lip synched to the American pop song. The video received more than 100,000 views before the dancers were detained, which sparked international outrage. The following are posts from Haghighi and Ahmadi's Instagram accounts.
Click here to watch the "Happy" video