Iranian authorities have arrested multiple music producers connected to a California-based Iranian pop singer, his management company and Iranian media said Thursday. It was seen as Tehran's latest effort to halt what it deems decadent Western behavior.
The arrests came as Iranian social media have been awash with criticism of popular underground Iranian singer "Sasy," or Sasan Heidari Yafteh, who has released a new music video. Called "Tehran Tokyo," the video features actresses, including an American porn star, gyrating in kimonos and short, tight dresses atop cars and inside bars. The clip racked up 18 million views within a week.
Over the years, Sasy has become known for lyrics that Iranian conservatives see as tainting the country's moral probity. In a previous song also featuring a porn actress, he instructed teenagers to take alcohol shots if they can't fall asleep and to scroll through Instagram instead of finishing their homework.
In Iran, where the government retains tight controls over traditional media like newspapers and television, authorities have used courts to patrol social media platforms beyond their reach. Hours before the video went live late Wednesday, Iranian security forces detained two popular music arrangers who worked on the song in the southern city of Shiraz and raided their studio, said Sasy's manager, Farshid Rafe Rafahi, the CEO of Los Angeles-based EMH Productions. The brothers, Mohsen and Behrouz Manouchehri, now face prosecution by a criminal court in Tehran, he added.
Porn performer featured
A week ago, the song's teaser, featuring porn performer Alexis Texas dancing to clubby Farsi pop, fueled such public consternation that authorities pledged to investigate the app that carried the video. Soon, Iran's guardians of conservative morals cracked down on those associated with publicizing or producing the clip.
"It's pretty crazy. She's just dancing like any person in any ordinary music video. She's not doing anything inappropriate in these scenes," said Rafahi, referring to Texas. "Sasy's mission isn't to create havoc. It's to make people happy."
Semiofficial news agencies in Iran confirmed several arrests Wednesday, alleging that Sasy's associates in Iran had produced music "contrary to culture."
The Fars news agency, believed to be close to Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guards, also accused the music producers in Iran of running gambling websites at Sasy's behest. Rafahi said the gambling accusations stemmed from a misunderstanding, given that a poker website helped sponsor the music video.
Sasy is now a permanent resident of the U.S. and has lived in exile since leaving his career as a successful underground rapper in Iran in 2009. Since the video came out, Iran has promised to "pursue his case with international legal authorities," according to the Fars report.
While hardliners consider the song a Western assault on Islamic teachings, thousands in the country are of a different mind. In thrall to the catchy beat, scores of teenagers and twentysomethings posted videos on social media lip-syncing, dancing and striking poses to "Tehran Tokyo" in their living rooms, kitchens and workplaces. In the clips, many women wear bright lipstick and few cover their hair with the hijab.
'Decisive judicial action'
Iranian semiofficial news agencies reported that those who "cooperated with Sasy" would face "decisive judicial action." It remains uncertain whether police also detained any of the lip-syncing fans.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution installed the clerically overseen system that endures today, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has extended its reach into most aspects of Iranian society, with laws banning women from dancing in public or appearing outside without the hijab. Authorities have cracked down on music in the past; they arrested young Iranians who appeared in videos dancing to Pharrell Williams' hit song "Happy" in 2014.
Under pressure from hardliners, the Iranian government long has blocked access to various websites and social media platforms, from YouTube and Facebook to Twitter and Telegram. Young Iranians still manage workarounds, accessing social media to share Sasy's outlawed songs through VPNs and proxies.