Celebrity Causes Storm with “Immoral” Photos
Celebrity Causes Storm with “Immoral” Photos
03 November 2015 by Shima Shahrabi

Ever since she posted photographs of herself not wearing a hijab on Instagram, Iranian cinema and television celebrity Sadaf Taherian has been the focus of harsh criticism and enthusiastic praise in equal measure. Some people have applauded her audacity and courage, others have accused her of self-promotion, while others, including Iran’s hardline media, have attacked and insulted her.

The Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance has even weighed in, with the ministry’s spokesman announcing  that Taherian had been taken over by “alien networks”.

Taherian, who does not currently live in Iran, says she never imagined that the Instagram pictures would lead to such controversy. Although she is upset about many of the comments she has received about the photographs, she says she does not regret posting them.

IranWire spoke to Sadaf Taherian about the media frenzy and speaking out for the rights of women in Iran.


Some people have said that you published these pictures on Instagram as a bid for greater fame and because you wanted to boost your career. What do you say to that?

I wish they had more respect for a woman’s choice. Where in the world do you get famous by taking off your headscarf? If you are talking about our own country Iran, then you know that the current system trembles when it sees a few strands of a woman’s hair — and prevents you from working in cinema and achieving fame. Besides, if taking off your headscarf gets you noticed, then why does it not happen to other women who publish similar pictures on their pages?

Some say I did it to gain fame as an actress. Some say I am not a real actress and just pretend to be one. But my question is: Why should I come under attack for deciding about my own lifestyle? Why has publishing a few pictures worried them so much?

If I am a fake actress, then I am an ordinary person, so why do they insult me so much? Like an ordinary person, I want to have the basic right of choosing what I wear. That is all. Those who believe they own women are enraged. They should be criticized because they find the question of hijab and what a women wears so important that they insult you, and at the same tell you to shut up and not answer back.

Posting photographs is one the simplest things you can do online and I give nobody the right to react this way and then expect me to remain silent. Besides me, there are many women, including actresses, who post such pictures. Unfortunately, Iranian law does not permit them to live the way they want to live. I did this in another country, where I have freedom and the right to choose. I pity people who play the role of the Morality Patrol for the Ministry of Guidance. Each person is responsible for her own life. Those who frighten me about Judgment Day better think about themselves and ask God’s forgiveness for the accusations and the libelous comments they make.


Like many of your colleagues, you could have hidden the fact that you do not believe that women should be forced to wear hijab. What happened to make you decide to come forward?

Each person has a different way of thinking. You cannot compare them with each other. I want to live in the way I like. As a human being, I want to have my basic rights, such as freedom of expression and the freedom to wear what I want. I want to be free to decide for myself.

I lived in Iran for 27 years —  not the way I wanted to, but the way they told me to. My personal album is filled with my real photographs, not with what they had made out of me. Why can’t I live the way that makes me happy?

For around a year, I was out of work; they would not give me a chance to work. There were many reasons and I talked about some of them in an interview with Masih Alinejad on the [Voice of America] TV show Tablet. Conditions were so difficult that my family and friends — and even some cinema people — noticed that I was beginning to suffer from depression. I decided to leave Iran and spend the rest of my life in another part of the world, like an ordinary person. The question of my hijab has been overblown by the media affiliated with the regime.

I posted only three pictures, but unfortunately some social network users, a number of domestic media outlets and the Ministry of Culture and Guidance attacked me over them. Who gives them the right to react so harshly? Unfortunately, in Iran, conditions for women from every walk of life — artists, students, office employees, doctors, lawyers and so on — are extremely difficult because some people look at their bodies more than they look at their minds. You can find proof of this in the comment thread on my posts.


So you did not expect this type of reaction?

No, really I did not. What have I done to deserve the most vulgar profanities and insults? One picture received 7,000 comments, of which 90 percent were insults and profanities. Why? I did not expect this from Iranian culture and society. I am not bothered by those who do not know what they are talking about and, without any logical reason, curse me and insult me in the worst manner. I am surprised by people who object to the fact that I published these photographs in the [holy] month of Muharram and say I did not show respect — while they libel me and shower me with profanities. When I posted my pictures I was not thinking about Muharram. It was only after the comments were posted that I noticed it was Muharram. I forgive them for judging me wrongly, and I hope God forgives them as well.


Have your colleagues reacted to the controversy? Have they responded to what you have said about corruption in the Iranian film industry?

What I disclosed about what goes on behind the scenes in Iranian cinema was not meant to offend women and other film artists, or to question their characters. Each person has her own experiences and observations. The exploitations that I talked about have been experienced by other women in other professions. Authorities and the media must diligently pursue and disclose what I have raised — the exploitation of women.

I wish the authorities would pay more attention to the humiliation of many young women in Iranian cinema than they do to photos of me and a few other actresses not wearing hijab. Some of my intellectual colleagues praise disclosures about corruption and the exploitation of women because they know that conversation is the road to salvation, not silence. When somebody dresses more freely this does not mean that she agrees with forced relationships. It does not mean that she is the personal property of some men and they can feel that they own her.


Did you read the statements by the Ministry of Culture’s spokesman Hossein Noushabadi? He explicitly said that you had been absorbed by “alien networks.” What is your comment on this?

Unfortunately, he is too late to the story, and his judgments are wrong. As the spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, I would not expect Mr. Noushabadi to make such an accusation without investigating it first. Such accusations have been brought up in the comments online —  I would not expect a ministry that has “culture” in its title to promote these baseless accusations. I have not been taken over by any network of any kind.


What do you feel now? If you could go back, would you post the photographs again? Or would you think twice?

I cannot explain what I feel. I can only say that some of my fellow Iranians have saddened me, but I am not sorry. I hope for a day when all of us will learn to accept people the way they are, not the way we want them to be.


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Iranian Actress Sadaf Teheran Banned After Posting Photos Without Hijab

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