In central Iran, a popular tourist site was recently closed due to visitors’ behaviour, before reopening following outrage on social media and negotiations between local authorities. The visitors didn’t damage or vandalize the site – but they filmed a video of themselves dancing.
The video shows several dozen Iranian tourists dancing and singing to Iranian folk music in front of a waterfall at Margoon springs, in the central province of Fars. The springs, located at 2000 metres of altitude, are a popular spot to visit in the hot summer days.
The video started circulating online on July 8, and quickly went viral. In Iran, dancing in public is prohibited for women, as well as for mixed company like in this video; doing so can carry a sentence of up to six months in prison, though this is rarely carried out. The dancers were not arrested, but police closed all roads leading to the Margoon on July 15.
>>READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: Ballet dancers tiptoe around Iran dancing ban
The local governor’s office in Sepidan, the nearest city, announced that this closure was the doing of the local imam’s office. (Every city has a powerful Friday Prayers imam, who is appointed by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic; the local governors, meanwhile, are appointed by the more moderate government). The statement said that “after the publication of a video that indicated the occurrence of un-Islamic acts, the office of the Friday Prayers imam asked for more 'regulation' and 'surveillance' in the zone […] and then the roads were closed”.
The backlash to the closure was swift. Many Iranians criticized this decision on social media.
Translation: “They’ve closed access to Margoon waterfall after the dancing clip. Why don’t people have the right to be happy? They are afraid of people’s happiness; they would prefer Iranians to always cry”
Gholamali Jafarzadeh, a centrist member of parliament close to President Hassan Rohani, tweeted the following: “Is it justifiable, even if tourists did something wrong on a touristic spot, to prohibit access to this site? How far will these prohibitions go?”
>> READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: The 'un-Islamic' girls' dance that shocked Iranian hardliners
On July 16, the local governor’s office announced that they had been able to negotiate with the local imam’s office to reopen the roads. “Everything is back to normal, but we will increase our surveillance of the site so that people observe Islamic codes.”
This is the second time that dancing videos caused a crisis in Iran in just two weeks’ time. On July 7, a popular Instagrammer who posted videos of herself dancing was shown repenting on a TV programme after being arrested.
>>READ MORE ON THE OBSERVERS: Iranian Instagram star arrested for dancing in her videos