Iran Arresting Women for Posing Without Headscarves on Instagram

Veiled Iranian women in Tehran
Veiled Iranian women attend a conservatives campaign gathering for parliamentary elections and the vote on the Assembly of Experts in Tehran, February 24. Iran has arrested eight women for posing without headscarves on photo-sharing platform Instagram. Reuters/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA

Iranian authorities arrested eight people with involvement in online modelling photographs without headscarves on Instagram and questioned a former model on live state television on Sunday in a crackdown on "un-Islamic" dress.

As part of an operation codenamed "Spider 2" that targets Iran's fashion elite for their use of social media, the Iranian authorities forced model Elham Arab to face the questions from a top prosecutor on camera about images posted without a headscarf.

Arab said that posing for a photograph without her headscarfit was a "mistake." She said she thinks "all humans are interested in admiring beauty and becoming famous," but that they must "first consider at what cost" and what they may lose as a result of their actions. "For an Iranian film star they may not lose much but for a model she will certainly lose her hijab and honour."

The prosecutor Javad Babaei announced the arrests on the TV program, which he said focused on "threats to morality and the foundation of family," saying that 29 people had been warned about their online presence but the majority had improved their conduct. "The persons who reformed their behaviour after receiving a notice did not face any judicial action, and eight out of the 29 have been arrested," he said.

He continued to say that Instagram posts without headscarves, spread by modeling agencies, were "making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity."

Iranian society is dictated by conservative Islamic law and since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 women have been required to cover their hair in accordance with these religious norms. Many women do so with headscarves, though others will wear full niqabs that cover some of the face and body.

Mostafa Alizadeh, spokesman of the Iranian Centre for Surveying and Combating Organized Cyber Crimes, said: "Sterilizing popular cyberspaces is on our agenda. We carried out this plan in 2013 with Facebook, and now Instagram is the focus."

Last month it was revealed by Tehran's police chief that Iranian authorities have established a vast network of thousands of undercover officers tasked with reporting on moral violations in the Islamic Republic's capital. The Iranian police have deployed some 7,000 vice agents to Tehran's streets to tackle perceived crimes such as sub-standard veiling by women.