Crime & Justice

The Iranian celebrities joining anti-regime protests

By Jaime León

Tehran, Nov 22 (EFE).- Musicians, football players, and other celebrities have been detained in Iran for supporting the protests that have spread throughout the country in recent months, but their detentions have not stopped other public figures from speaking up and joining the voices calling for freedom.

Support can also come as a silent protest, as the Iranian national team players showed at the Qatar World Cup on Monday, by declining to sing the national anthem before playing against England, a match they lost 6-2.

The gesture has been considered a form of protest amid the demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini which have been met with a brutal crackdown by the country’s security forces.

The social unrest in Iran began in mid-September after the death of 22-year-old Amini in custody of the so-called morality police in Tehran for allegedly not wearing her headscarf correctly according to the country’s strict Islamic dress code.

The protesters’ demands have evolved from calls for reform to now calling for the end of the Islamic Republic, the theocratic state founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979.

Many celebrities have shown their support to the movement and its slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom!” to the discontent of authorities who fear their ability to influence, amplify messages and mobilize the population.

Among them, Iranian football players have stood out as the unexpected rebels.

Their involvement began in a match against Senegal on September 27, when the Iranian players wore black jackets covering up their official kits during the national anthems.

Former player Ali Daei also announced that he had turned down an invitation to go to Qatar in solidarity with the families who have lost loved ones in the unrest.

Following the demonstrations, Iran’s Football Federation issued an official statement threatening to “deal” with players who make political gestures, a warning that the World Cup players apparently ignored by not singing the anthem.

Another high profile example was climber Elnaz Rekabi, who competed in the Climbing Asian Championships, in Seoul without her hair covered.

She was hailed as a “champion” by supporters of the demonstrations upon her return to Tehran, although she later denied it was a show of solidarity, claiming it was “an accident”.

But it is not only athletes who have shown their support to the protests, in which at least 378 people have died, including 47 minors, according to Iran Human Rights, an NGO based in Norway.

On Sunday, actors Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi were detained for removing their headscarves, and are now facing charges of “collusion to act against the state security” and “propaganda against the state.”

Thousands of women have stopped covering their hair on the streets of Tehran in the last couple of months, a gesture that would have been considered unthinkable just weeks ago.

Ghaziani and Riahi are two national prominent public figures who give visibility to the protests by being seen without their hijabs.

Ghaziani posted a video on her Instagram account in which she defiantly stares at the camera with her hair down before turning around to pull it into a ponytail.

The two actors are to join the more than 2,000 people on trial in Tehran for their involvement in protests, six of whom have already been sentenced to death by hanging.

Iranian rapper Tomaaj Salehi is also behind bars, after being arrested in late October for his lyrics against the regime.

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