A leading Iranian model has been forced to give a public self-criticism after being charged with “promoting western promiscuity” for posting pictures of herself online without a headscarf.
Elham Arab, famous for her blonde hair, doll-like looks and wedding dress model shoots, is one of a string of Iranian models caught up in a sting operation code-named “Spider 2”. It is aimed at models and other figures in the fashion industry who have advertised themselves or appeared on Instagram and other social media sites.
Wearing black chador over her newly dark locks, she said she regretted entering the fashion business in the first place, describing it as a “mistake”. “I think all humans are interested in admiring beauty and becoming famous,” she said.
“But they must first consider at what cost and what they will lose in return. For an Iranian film star they may not lose much but for a model she will certainly lose her hijab and honour.”
In Islam, hijab can refer both to the headscarf women wear to cover their hair and the principle of modesty that underlies the practice.
The crackdown on the fashion industry is part of a broader renewed emphasis on “Islamic values” under President Hassan Rouhani. Although he has a reputation as a moderate compared to his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime has been trying to reassert its revolutionary credentials since the nuclear deal with the West.
Women have been threatened with losing their driving licences for taking to the wheel without head-scarves, and Javad Babayi, the head of the cyber-crimes court, said the campaign against loose hijab had now moved to social media.
“The purpose of Operation Spider 2, which was launched two years ago, is to monitor the use of social media by the Western imperialist powers to change the Iranian-Islamic life-style of our nation,” he told a local news agency.
“During our monitoring we noticed that more than 20 percent of the social media used by our youth is directed at modelling business via Instagram.”
Scores of models and fashion agencies were promoting themselves on Instagram in this way until the crackdown began in January.
It was reported later that seven of the country’s leading models had been arrested – named as Melikaa Zamani, Niloofar Behboudi, Donya Moghadam, Dana Nik, Shabnam Molavi, Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei.
The last two are said to be married, and to have been among a number of fashion industry players to have subsequently left Iran.
Ms Golrokh, who is also a professional make-up artist and is now based across the Hormuz Strait from Iran in Dubai, issued a statement at the time saying: “Unfortunately for the moment I will not be active in Iran, but I will continue my work outside Iran.
“Thanks for your support and your positive energy. I love you.”
However, the filmed interview is a major risk, threatening to expose the generation gap that divides Iran by pitting two of its leading figures against each other.
The court has charged the arrested models with offences including “spreading prostitution” and “promoting corruption”, saying they promoted “immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity”