Iran: Concerts in the crosshairs

2 September 2016

Religious conservatives in Iran have been tightening control over the nation’s cultural and moral values ever since the 2013 election of liberal President Hassan Rouhani and the 2015 nuclear deal, amidst fears that the country will lose its values to Western influences. Art, especially music and live concerts, has become one such target for religious hardliners.

The following article on the increased tension between Rouhani’s government and religious conservatives over live music was originally published by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on 15 August 2016, who have kindly allowed Freemuse to re-publish it here:

khorosan concert iran
Rouhani battles religious hardliners over concert cancellations in Iran

A simmering battle between the government of President Hassan Rouhani and hardline religious figures over music concerts is playing out in northeastern Iran. Most recently, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli questioned the announced suspension of all music concerts in Khorasan Razavi Province in a letter to the Judiciary.

“We cannot prejudge the intentions [of musicians] and base decisions on the possibility that something will go wrong during all concerts. That would not be right,” wrote Fazli, addressing Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani on August 7, 2016.

On August 5 Khorasan Razavi’s Prosecutor Gholamali Sadeghi announced the cancelation of a concert by the popular singer Salar Aghili in the city of Sabzevar and the suspension of all future concerts in the province “until the issue is looked at and a framework is set by the province’s cultural council.”

Sadeghi said the decision was made in response to complaints by religious institutions in the province and “various strata of people,” and was intended to “prevent harm” to society.

Rouhani’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance reacted to the cancelation of Aghili’s performance by stating that all the necessary permits had already been issued for the concert.

Since President Hassan Rouhani’s election in 2013, religious conservatives have gradually increased their attacks on music concerts and pushed for numerous cancelations. The attacks were initially focused on female musicians, but recently the police and Judiciary have also intervened to prevent what they have vaguely described as “morality issues.”

On May 18, 2016 the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry’s office in Khorasan Razavi issued a statement saying the reasons given for the cancelation of the concerts—including “women removing their hijab, dancing, disturbing public peace, un-Islamic music, committing sins and illegitimate relations by some concert participants”—were “unrealistic.”

The Ministry’s Spokesperson Hossein Noushabadi went a step further on May 20 and said there was a “coordinated current” aimed at stopping all concerts.

In June 2015 the government and the police reached an agreement intended to ensure that concerts that had obtained the necessary permits could be held without cancellation. But the cancellations have persisted, with the police often interfering at legal music events.

On July 22, 2016 Seyyed Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of the Joint Armed Forces Headquarters, called on the police to confront “moral and cultural maladies…throughout society, namely in regards to concerts.”

On May 29, 2016 Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader of Mashhad, the capital of Khorasan Razavi, and a strong voice against concerts defended the cancelations: “We must create the grounds to stop indecent and corrupt activities here… Don’t be afraid of the psychological wars instigated by a bunch of unrestrained individuals.”

Khorasan Razavi’s Governor General Alireza Rashidian meanwhile sided with the Rouhani administration in trying to protect the rights of artists and musicians to hold lawful events. “If there’s a law that bans concerts in this province let us know…this contradictory situation cannot go on,” he said on June 6, 2016.

Despite having permits from the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, dozens of concerts, especially by prominent musicians including Kayhan Kalhor and Shahram Nazeri, have been canceled in the province in recent months.

» The above article from 15 August 2016 was reprinted with permission from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran and can be found here.

Concerts in capital and at universities restricted

The push to cancel concerts is not limited to just the northeastern part of the country. In late August 2016 the Tehran prosecutor recommended new rules for concerts in the capital that would include police recording all concerts and ensuring the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, as well as the provincial governor, take more responsibility for the content of concerts, reported AFP on 27 August 2016.

Further, in March 2016, the state council for the Islamisation of universities and educational centres also set out new restrictions for concerts held at universities, effectively cancelling concerts at such institutions, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on 7 March 2016.

The council stated that “holding concerts and independent musical programs is not a priority for universities and is not allowed”, unless the performances are of “fine and valuable Iranian music” that “strengthens national identity” and is in line with “Islamic norms”.

The council added that the music presented must not “create excitement that is out of the norm” and should avoid lyrics that encourage such things as  “promiscuity”, “despair and hopelessness”, “superficiality” and “neglect human dignity”.

This latest restriction comes after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei made a statement on the issue a year ago in July 2015, saying that he agreed with students who raised the issue, stating that “it’s wrong if we think we should entertain students by having music concerts”, reported Journalism is Not a Crime on 27 August 2015.

Photo: International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran


» AFP – 27 August 2016:
Tough new conditions for concerts in Iran capital

» International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran – 15 August 2016:
Rouhani battles religious hardliners over concert cancellations in Iran

» Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty – 7 March 2016:
Iran sets new restrictions on university concerts

» Journalism is Not a Crime – 27 August 2015:
Iranian universities banned from hosting concerts

More from Freemuse

» 23 May 2016: Iran: Concerts cancelled under pressure from religious conservatives

» 28 January 2016: Iran: Singer banned from tv and festival

» 8 January 2016: Iran: Musicians call for lifting concert ban

» 30 November 2015: Iran: Concert cancelled for having female musicians

» 4 November 2015: Iran: 26 popular singers banned from performing

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