A young couple in Iran has been sentenced to over a decade in prison after posting a video of themselves dancing in a city square on Instagram, the Human Rights Activists News Agency reported on Tuesday.
Astiaj Haghighi, 21, and her fiancé, Amir Mohammad Ahmadi, 22, are fashion and lifestyle Instagram influencers with nearly 1 million followers each. The couple often post videos about their relationship, videos of them dancing together, and advice for their fans.
Their arrest reportedly occurred on Nov. 1, 2022, shortly after the couple posted a clip showing them dancing by the Azadi Tower, also known as the Freedom Tower, in the capital city of Tehran. In the now-deleted video, Ahmadi picks Haghighi up and spins her around as they cheerfully dance together.
“On November 1, security forces arrested this couple violently after they published a video on social media showing them dancing in a city square,” HRANA reported.
BBC confirmed that the couple’s arrest came after they posted the video on social media.
CBS News reported that the Iranian state media outlet Mizan claimed Haghighi and Ahmadi were not detained for dancing but for stoking resistance efforts in their Instagram posts by “encouraging people to riot against the country and subversion.”
Mizan disputed the 10-year punishment and claimed the couple received a five-year prison sentence for publishing "a call for protests."
"It is clear that anti-revolutionary forces have falsely reported the charges by claiming each were sentenced to 10 years," the Islamic Republic judiciary's Mizan news agency said, reported Reuters.
“Astiazh Haghighi and Amir Mohammad Ahmadi had published a call for a rally on November 4 and called for riots on their Instagram pages,” Mizan’s statement reads, per CBS News. “During the riots, they used their page to advertise calls, including the call for November 4.”
The couple was individually sentenced by a Tehran court to prison for 10 years and 6 months each, for a total of 21 years combined, on counts of “promotion of impurity and indecency, assembly and collusion against national security, and propaganda against the regime,” the Washington Post said Wednesday. The couple have also been banned from social media and are not allowed to leave the country for two years. While their profiles remain public, there have not been posts on Haghighi’s feed since Sept. 28, 2022. Ahmadi’s last post was at the beginning of September.
Iranians have been protesting in growing numbers against the government’s theocratic rule, and authorities have been cracking down. Much of the public dissent was sparked last year by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by Iran’s morality police for the improper wearing of a hijab. Amini died days later in their custody.
Iranian officials have since arrested public figures who have spoken out against the government’s reaction to Amini’s death. This includes the arrests of prominent actor Taraneh Alidoosti and celebrity chef Navab Ebrahimi.
Haghighi spoke out in support of Amini in September. In an Instagram post, she wrote, “Hoping tomorrow will be a better tomorrow. Let's hold each other's hands and support each other. We are all Iranians and we need to help each other.”
According to citizen journalism outlet IranWire, Haghighi's and Ahmadi's families have been under pressure to not speak about the situation and the influencers were “deprived of their right to have a lawyer in court.”
The HRANA has estimated at least 525 people have died in the protests since September 2022.
This story has been updated to include Iranian state media outlet Mizan's reported claim that the couple had only received five-year sentences and that they had "called for riots" on Instagram.