Maedeh Hojabri is an 18-year-old Iranian who garnered a large social media following through Instagram. Videos of her dancing and lip-synching sans headscarf have garnered thousands of views.
But when Iranian officials discovered Hojabri’s videos, they reportedly arrested her, according to Al Jazeera.
The viral sensation may never have actually broken a formal law in the country. In Iran, women are not allowed to dance in front of men, unless they are close family members. They are also required to wear headscarves in public. Hojabri’s videos appear to have been recorded in private spaces, sparking conversations about what is considered public and private when technology is involved. Some of Hojabri’s videos also feature Western music, such as “Wild Thoughts” by DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller or “Wherever, Whenever” by Shakira. Western music is banned from state radio and TV stations in Iran.
After reportedly detaining Hojabri, Iranian officials forced her to make a public statement on state television. The segment aired over the weekend.
“It was not done for the purpose of getting attention,” Hojabri said, according to Al Jazeera.
She discouraged others from following in her dance steps. A prominent religious cleric spoke out against the state’s handling of the case, accusing the government of publicly shaming her family.
On social media, people in Iran and beyond criticized how Hojabri was treated. Using various hashtags, including #dancingisntacrime, supporters flooded Twitter and Instagram with reposts of Hojabri’s videos. Some shared their own clips of dancing at home or in the streets in support of the teen. Hojabri looks to be back on Instagram: She reposted one of her dance videos and shared a photo of a newspaper story about her.
Iran has persecuted dancers before, most memorably in 2014 when Iranians were arrested for dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit, “Happy” and posting a video of it online. Their biggest offense? They danced in public.