TEHRAN — On the left side of the frame stands a lonely man, clad in black. The scene is most probably a park, somewhere in the Iranian capital Tehran. Soon he is joined by a group of five men and ten women. At the center is a famous actress. No music, no props, no words. The black-clad crew stares boldly at the camera until the clip fades off in what looks like a curtain call at the end of a play.
“The show is over and the truth will be revealed,” wrote director Hamid Pourazari and actress Soheila Golestani as they shared their video on their Instagram accounts. Another part of the caption read “unnamed people are our true heroes,” an apparent reference to the lives claimed in the nationwide protests across Iran since September 16, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in “morality police” custody for allegedly wearing her hijab “improperly.”
During the more than two months of unrest in Iran, several female artists have posted solo photos and videos of themselves in defiance of the strict hijab mandate and in solidarity with the ongoing protests. The Pourazari-Golestani performance was the first to feature a group of artists without headscarves.
Mandatory hijab was passed into law five years after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, although it had taken effect well ahead of its official ratification. All women are legally obliged to wear loose long clothes and cover their hair in public, including in movies, theatres and sports.
Pourazari and Golestani were detained Nov. 29, two days after their clip went viral on social media. One day before the arrest, the Iranian president’s deputy for legal affairs, Mohammad Dehghan, had reiterated that not wearing a hijab contradicts the principles of the Islamic Republic.
“They can arrest theatre artists and hold them back, but they cannot arrest the theatre,” commented famous Iranian playwright Naghmeh Samini on her Instagram as she praised the silent performance.
A group of students of the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Tehran staged a slightly modified version and called for the release of the detained artists. Actress Rashin Didandeh appeared in a similar video, shared on Instagram, along with a group of her co-workers.
An unnamed legal expert told Iran's semi-official news agency Tasnim that each of the detainees can face up to one year in prison depending on the jury’s decision.
Iran’s Alliance of Motion Pictures Guild, better known as the House of Cinema, stated on Nov. 21 that efforts to release the arrested artists had been futile and only intensified the detention campaign.
Two famous Iranian actresses, Katayoun Riahi and Hengameh Ghaziani, were arrested Nov. 20 for removing their headscarves and criticizing authorities. Riahi was the first actress to appear without a hijab in a live interview with the London-based Farsi news channel Iran International two days after the death of Mahsa Amini in September. Iranian media reported that the two artists were released on bail on Nov. 29 and Nov. 27, respectively.
Since the protests began in mid-September, more than 100 artists have been reportedly arrested or banned from working and traveling abroad.
The International Human Rights Film Festival in Vienna screened a documentary by detained Iranian filmmaker Mojgan Inanlou on Dec. 1. Holding placards with the Iranian protest slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom,” a group of Iranian artists called for Inanlou's “unconditional release.” She was detained in Tehran Oct. 17 after releasing photos of herself without a hijab.
Iran’s attorney general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said Dec. 1 that the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution and parliament are discussing the hijab rule and the results will be announced in two weeks, reported Islamic Republic news agency IRNA. Montazeri emphasized that the morality police will not be “dismantled,” but cultural and security officials seek to resolve the issue with “discretion.”