Young couple who danced in viral video handed lengthy jail sentence in Iran

A young couple in Iran have been arrested and imprisoned after posting a video of themselves dancing together in front of Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Tower.

Astiyazh Haghighi, 21, and her fiancé Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, 22, both popular Instagram influencers in Iran, were convicted of promoting corruption and disturbing national security, activists reported on Tuesday.

The November 2022 video, which may have led to their arrest, showed Haghighi without her headscarf in public, in defiance of Iran’s morality laws. At one point in the video, Ahmadi lifts his fiancée in the air with her long hair flowing. Women are also not permitted to dance in public.

Screenshot of a viral video showing a young couple dancing in front of Iran’s Azadi Tower. Twitter/Masih Alinejad

According to Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRA), a group that has closely monitored the country’s protest movement, the pair were sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison for “promoting corruption and prostitution, colluding against national security, and propaganda against the establishment.”

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Iran’s Mizan news agency, though, contends that they were sentenced to five years in prison for using social media to incite riots. It’s unclear how the discrepancy between these two reports arose.

The original video of the couple dancing has since been removed from social media, along with both of their Instagram accounts. But copies of the videos have surfaced and are now being widely circulated on social media.

While the couple didn’t explicitly link their dance to the ongoing protest movement in Iran, the video has been used to highlight the freedoms that anti-government protesters are fighting for.

Screenshot of a viral video showing a young couple dancing in front of Iran’s Azadi Tower. Twitter/Masih Alinejad

Since September, Iranian authorities have sought to quell protests that were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being arrested for violating headscarf laws. While the protests initially centred around Iran’s restrictive morality laws, it has since expanded to calls for a regime change.

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Activists say at least 16 people have been sentenced to death in closed-door hearings over charges linked to the protests. At least 517 protesters have been killed and more than 19,200 people have been arrested, according to HRA. Iranian authorities have not provided an official count of those killed or detained.

The HRA says Haghighi and Ahmadi were deprived of lawyers after their arrest, citing family members, and their attempts to secure bail for their loved ones have been rejected. The activists also claim the two were banned from using social media and prohibited from leaving the country for two years.

Before their arrest, the couple had a combined following of almost two million on social media.

The futuristic Azadi Tower in Iran’s capital was opened under the rule of the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in the early 1970s to commemorate 2,500 years of the Persian Empire. It was originally named the Shahyad (In Memory of the Shah) Tower but was renamed after the ousting of the shah and the creation of the Islamic republic in 1979.

The architect of the tower, a member of the persecuted Bahá’í faith, now lives in exile.

with files from The Associated Press

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