Iranian authorities have arrested eight models who post photos of themselves on Instagram and are deleting their accounts, which they say are "un-Islamic."
Tehran's cybercrime court announced the news about the arrest over the weekend but didn't reveal the models' identities. Investigators also said they identified at least 170 people who were involved in modeling, photography, and fashion on Instagram.
Iranian police has said it has compiled a database of hundreds of popular Iranian Instagram accounts.
The accounts — like other Instagram accounts around the world — have been used to share selfies and photographs of their owners wearing makeup and fashionable clothes. Some of the Iranian women's accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers and despite the arrests of the eight women, many others remain active.
The arrests were part of an operation, known as "Spider-2," that targeted women using Instagram, especially those who chose to show their hair. Some of the models are believed to have fled the country.
One model, Elham Arab — who has a large following and is known for her blonde hair — has been charged with "promoting Western promiscuity." On Monday she appeared in front of Iran's revolutionary court.
She was later forced to give a public apology in court. In her apology, she said: "All people love beauty and fame. They would like to be seen, but it is important to know what price they will pay to be seen."
Melika Zamani, a model, actor, and fashion designer, has also been targeted by authorities for her online activity.
This is what her Instagram account – which has 360,000 followers – currently looks like:
Iranian authorities have not said whether they took control of the women's social media accounts to delete their photos or to post warnings.
The arrests are seen as one of the Iranian government's latest attempts to control online expression in a country that has also routinely detained and imprisoned artists, bloggers, and activists.
During a state television interview on Sunday, Javad Babaei, a prosecutor in the cybercrimes court, said the women were "making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity."
"We found out that about 20% of the [Iranian] Instagram feed is run by the modeling circle," he added.
Tara Sepehri Far, a Human Rights Watch expert on women's rights in Iran, says the attacks on social media users who are not social or political activists is a "relatively new phenomenon."
"Before, people have been arrested and sentenced for posting material on social media that was deemed offensive to government officials, or were seen as a threat to national security," she said. "But over last year or so, the debate in Iran has shifted towards the influence of lifestyle, and the government is deciding how people who do not conform to the desired lifestyle should be treated."
Far said the use of social media has helped the Iranian fashion industry grow, and that entrepreneurs and models use Instagram to help promote their business.
"The latest arrests are the newest way the government is trying to say there's a direct collaboration with Western industries to corrupt Iranian lifestyle," she added.
In another bizarre move by Iranian authorities, a police agency that monitors culture and social media has accused Kim Kardashian of working for Instagram as part of a ploy to "target young people and women" in the country.
Mostafa Alizadeh, a spokesperson for the Iranian Centre for Surveying and Combating Organized Cyber Crimes, said on local TV: "Ms. Kim Kardashian is a popular fashion model ... There is no doubt that financial support is involved as well. We are taking this very seriously."