Iran’s state-run TV has been airing coerced “confessions” since the early 1980s. While nearly all of the confessions broadcast have thus far been from politicians or opposition activists, the latest case stands out, as it involved a sobbing 17-year-old girl swearing she meant no harm to the Islamic Republic when she posted a video of herself on Instagram dancing to Persian and Western hits.
The controversial program triggered a barrage of criticism from the public, and even some clerics and state officials chastised the show for exploiting the child.
Now, the Minister of Information and Communication (ICT) says the shocking broadcast on the state-run Channel One was a smokescreen meant to distract the public from another controversy brewing around accusations of theft.
Speaking on a radio show July 11, ICT Minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi accused an unnamed think tank of being behind the decision put the girl on the show.
“While public opinion was focused on the case of transparency, calling for the disclosure of the names of those who have illegally benefitted from receiving millions of dollars at a subsidized rate, all of a sudden, this video is aired and turned into the talk of the whole world. This, I believe, is not a normal [development].”
Jahromi said the station was ordered to put the girl on air by the judiciary, representatives of which dismiss his claim, promising to issue an official statement next week.
President Rouhani’s administration has recently alleged that scores of individuals and companies who received dollars at a government subsidized rate of 42,000 rials to the dollar to import necessary commodities instead either saved the money for themselves or sold the imported goods based on the dollar’s market value of 80,000 rials to the dollar.
Days earlier, Channel One TV had shown a documentary in which several girls spoke regretfully about their activities on Instagram.
One of the young girls was seventeen-year old Ma’edeh Hojabri, who broke into tears in front of the cameras and under a barrage of questions raised by the show’s host.
The teenager was arrested and charged for posting the videos of herself dancing on her Instagram page, where she has more than 40,000 followers.
Islamic laws enforced in Iran prohibit dancing in public.
Hojabri had shared dozens of photos and videos on her Instagram account where she is seen dancing to Western pop and rap music. In the posts she appears without the obligatory Islamic hijab required of women in Iran.
One of the main targets of criticism in the scandal is the CEO of state TV, who is directly appointed by the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and is accountable only to him.
Meanwhile, dozens of girls and women rushed to social media in support of Hojabri to post videos of themselves dancing, using the Persian language version of the hashtag #DancingIsntACrime.
Reformist cleric Mohamad Taqi Fazel Maybodi lambasted the TV station for airing the teenagers’ “confessions under duress,” insisting that forcing a woman to make a confession and broadcasting it "smears the honor" of her family.
"Which embezzler has so far been brought [on TV] to admit to corruption and plunder of public assets? Which is the greater sin—dancing or stealing public resources?" Maybodi asked sarcastically.
Dissidents outside Iran were broader in their criticism, attacking the Islamic Republic as a whole.
Referring to Hojabri and the young women who recently dared to take off their headscarves in busy streets across Iran, former Crown Prince and heir apparent to the throne, exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi, tweeted July 8, “The only crime of these courageous women sentenced by occupiers of Iran is longing for freedom and living free. For the past 39 years, this criminal sect has deprived Iran and its women of life.
More than fifty exiled dissidents wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling on him to reimpose sanctions on Iranian state TV.