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Maedeh – Iran dancer
Maedeh Hojabri was arrested for her Instagram videosvia @maedeh_hozhabri

Iranian women are being arrested for dancing on Instagram

A teenage gymnast is among those who have been detained and shamed for their social media presence

Iran has seen a major crackdown on Instagram influencers as authorities have reportedly arrested at least four women in the past week for posting videos onto the app.

The only woman whose identity has been released to the press so far is Maedeh Hojabri, a 17-year-old gymnast who reportedly had 600,000 followers for her dancing and gymnast posts. She, alongside the others arrested, was seen crying on state television on Friday in what activists fear were forced confessions.

“It wasn’t for attracting attention,” she said. “I had some followers and these videos were for them. I did not have any intention to encourage others doing the same. I didn’t work with a team, I received no training. I only do gymnastics.”

Instagram is one of the few social media sites that isn’t heavily blocked in Iran where Facebook and Twitter are far more restricted. However, it is illegal for women to dance or be seen without a hijab in public.  

Social media users shared videos and messages of support for the young dancer using a hashtag that translates to #dancing_isn't_a_crime while other women have staged public dance protests.

Prominent blogger Hossein Ronaghi wrote: "If you tell people anywhere in the world that 17 and 18-year-old girls are arrested for their dance, happiness and beauty on charges of spreading indecency, while child rapists and others are free, they will laugh! Because for them, it's unbelievable!"

This month, an Iranian woman said that she has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for taking her hijab off in public in December 2017. And back in 2014, seven young Iranians were arrested for recording a version of Pharrell’s “Happy”. They were handed a suspended sentenced of 91 lashes and six months in jail.

Amnesty International condemned the trial at the time. Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the organisation's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa said: “With these sentences, the absurd meets the unjust. These convictions flagrantly flout Iran’s obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression. If the sentences are ultimately carried out, these individuals will be prisoners of conscience.”