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Students in Iran threatened with prosecution for graduation dance video

Al-Zahra University in Bushehr will pursue legal action, says its president, in a move labelled ‘absurd’ by human rights lawyers

Deepa Parent

April 12, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

A group of Iranian students have been threatened with prosecution after a video of them dancing after their graduation emerged on social media this week.

In the now viral video, a group of about 11 female students from Al-Zahra University in the coastal city of Bushehr, in south-west Iran, were seen dancing and riding a motorcycle.

The university’s president, Zahra Hajiani, told the Iranian Students news agency (ISNA) that the video had been made “without coordination and obtaining permission from the university” and was an “illegal activity”.

She said the university would pursue legal action against the students. “This matter is under investigation by the university’s security. The student who produced this video has been identified and is supposed to be accountable for this action along with his father tomorrow.”

Human rights lawyers said the university was likely to have made the legal threat under pressure from authorities in Iran.

“There’s no specific law banning them from dancing or riding motorcycles. This is an attempt to break the strong student movement in Iran, which showed during Woman, Life, Freedom protests that it’s stronger than ever,” said the Canada-based Iranian human rights lawyer Hossein Raeesi.

“The kids are simply celebrating their achievements and any legal threat is absurd,” he added, saying the “vagueness” of laws was used by authorities to prosecute individuals for “indecency”.

Over the past decade, several cases have been reported by human rights groups on detentions of women dancing in public. Two women were arrested in March for dancing in Tehran’s Tajrish Square dressed in outfits depicting fictional Iranian folklore characters. State media said the arrests were for “committing acts of norm-breaking”.

Speaking to the Guardian this week, one Iran-based student said: “This video shows that all the suspensions and banning has done nothing in discouraging us from celebrating our achievements with music and dance. We continue to defy their rules. University presidents are just mouthpieces of the Islamic Republic. There’s nothing illegal in celebrating, nor is protesting illegal.”

However, the threats by Hajiani have reignited calls to support students facing ongoing repression by the Iranian security forces.

In days after the death of Mahsa Amini – a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who died in hospital in Tehran in September 2022 after being detained by police for allegedly breaking the country’s strict dress code – protests were held across the country, led by young women, especially schoolgirls and university students.

“The chancellor’s threat to take legal action against these courageous young women for simply celebrating their graduation highlights the oppressive reality faced by women and girls throughout Iran,” said Jasmin Ramsey, the deputy director of the Center of Human Rights in Iran.

“By fearlessly expressing themselves through dance and riding motorcycles in public, they directly challenged the repressive diktats imposed by the state on women’s behaviour.

“This viral video stands as an indomitable testament to the unwavering resilience of Iranian women, particularly the younger generation. From every corner of the nation, women are steadfastly asserting their right to dress and act as they see fit, boldly rejecting any attempt to curtail their freedom.”


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