Sadegh Bagheri, an Iranian market stall owner in the Caspian Sea coastal city of Rasht in northern Gilan province, was captured on video dancing and singing a folk song with onlookers clapping, dancing, and singing along. Bagheri published the video on his Instagram account with some 120,000 followers at the end of November.
By mid-December, Bagheri’s dance video went viral, and the Gilan police detained him along with other men who were present at his bazaar performance and who posted the video on Instagram. Police took control of the men’s Instagram accounts and removed all content, replacing it with a message saying, "This page was blocked and dealt with by our agents due to the production of criminal content and based on criminal examples contained in the Computer Crimes Act.”
Following the seizure of Bagheri’s account, local media in Rasht reported that he was arrested for debauchery, and the police came under heavy criticism. Hundreds of Iranian women and men started filming themselves mirroring Bagheri’s dance moves, singing the same folk song and posting videos on social media to protest his arrest.
Then the Gilan province police issued a denial of Bagheri’s prosecution.
In a statement released by its communications department, the province’s police command claimed: “No person has been arrested in connection with the release of a video filmed at the Rasht bazaar.”
That claim is false.
An abundance of evidence confirms the prosecution of Bagheri and others. That includes a response from Iran’s top official, press reports, interviews, and – the Gilan province police’s statement at the time of the arrests.
Before issuing the denial, the deputy police commander of Gilan province, Brigadier-General Hossein Hassanpour, told the media that 12 individuals had been arrested for taking part in Bagheri’s dance and the distribution of the video. Brigadier-General Hassanpour also said that the police took control of the social media accounts belonging to the arrested men and that four shops at the Rasht bazaar were shut down for participating in the dancing and singing. He said such behavior violated public morals and broke norms, as cited by London-based Iran International, a Persian language television network.
The New York Times, citing an anonymous source, reported that those detained, including Bagheri, were blindfolded, beaten, and coerced into promising never to sing or dance again.
A top Iranian official also confirmed the arrest in a statement critical of the Gilan police’s prosecution of Bagheri.
Tourism Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami said, "We have a problem in producing happiness... an old man is accused by us for having joy in his shop singing folk music, but if he showed the same joy on a religious occasion, he would have been encouraged."
On X, formerly Twitter, Iranian journalists joined the critique.
Iranian journalist and civil activist, Abb Abdi, said in his X post:
“What is the justification for such discrimination in how the prosecutor general of Gilan dealt with that film, and the arrest of the old man for expressing his happiness, in a city? If you saw this in another country, how would you judge them? Don't think that the problem can be solved by silence, these questions will come to you.”
The Gilan police also said in a statement that it requested that the judiciary "open some cyberspace pages related to the issue."
The Instagram account belonging to Sadegh Bagheri, who is nicknamed Booghy online, has been reinstated and now boasts more than 1 million followers. His posts, featuring remixing and dancing videos, continue to attract millions of views.
This is not the first time Iranian authorities have prosecuted people for dancing and singing and sharing the videos on social media.
This past January, a court in Tehran sentenced a couple in their 20s to 10 years in prison, convicting them of “promoting corruption, prostitution, and propaganda” after the young people shared on social media a video of themselves dancing near the capital city’s Azadi Tower.
Other dancers received jail times and lashes for the videos posted in 2014.
In 2022, the Iranian regime killed more than 500 people for taking part in nationwide street protests that erupted after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian Kurd, in police custody. Amini was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the nation’s mandatory hijab law.