Iranians Arrested after Celebratory World Cup Video

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 16:42 p.m. DST, 09 July 2014

Ali karimi and Nakamura Shunsuke during their the World Cup 2006 qualifying match in Tehran, Photo by  MEVA_SLS

TEHRAN, Iran — For the second time in the past few months, Iran authorities have arrested those involved in making a celebratory music video. Last month, six individuals were arrested and since released for filming a music video to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy”.

This week, three individuals have been arresting for filming a music video entitled “Gole Iran” by the London-based Ajam Band in support of Iran’s World Cup football team. VICE News reports that those arrested are two 23-year-olds, who can be seen in the video, and a 26-year-old photographer.

Like in the video that the young Iranians made to “Happy”, Iranian authorities have issue with the women in the videos being shown not wearing headscarves. The official IRNA news agency of the state released a quote from police chief Colonel Rahmatollah Taheri, who called the World Cup music video “vulgar”, according to Associated Press.

For this reason, the World Cup video was also condemned by Iranian authorities because it is illegal for women without scarves to be in—and especially dance in—public. In this World Cup video, both men and women can be seen dancing and singing in various locations in Iran, including the city where the arrests were made, Sharoud. They are shown waving Iran’s flag and playing musical instruments.

Iran has been known to censor websites in the past, but with the arrests made from the highly-viewed “Happy” video and “Gole Iran” videos it appears that Iranian authorities are making examples of viral videos to Mahsa Alimardani, an Iranian-Canadian internet researcher, specializes in human rights criticized the arrests telling Mashable, "They're trying to make a point about the world cup festivities, and this is the only way they can scare people. It's really ridiculous."

The punishment of the makers of the video echoes sentiments of the country’s hardliners who are aiming to steer the country away from what they consider Western “decadence”. However, the country’s more moderate president Hassan Rouhani has sought for more cultural and social tolerance in Iran. Despite this, internet censorship apparently still has a presence as this is the second public arrest made over a harmless YouTube video.

There are thirteen credited individuals in the making of “Gole Iran”, including the seven members of Ajam Band, who wrote the song played in “Gole Iran”. Aside from the seven-member band, there are six that were responsible for the directing, editing, filming, and graphics, according to VICE News. The roles of the individuals arrested in making the video remains unknown. In the case of the “Happy” arrests, the detained parties included the dancers and the film’s director.

The video published days before the World Cup commenced garnered 30,000 views on YouTube and now has over 300,000 views. Agence France-Press said the video aired on satellite television in Iran, which is watched illegally by many of its people. Iran was eventually knocked out of the competition June 25 after impressively holding their own against semi-finalists Argentina. Amir Jahnashai, the founder of an Iranian opposition television channel in London tweeted, “The entire Iranian nation today supports our football team. Such solidarity should be present in all fields,” as was the message of “Gole Iran”.

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Albanian Women Swearing Virginity to Live as Men

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KRUJE, Albania -- In Albania, where culture is dictated by patriarchy, some women are taking vows of celibacy and living their lives as men.

These “sworn virgins”, or burrneshas in Albanian, save the honor of their families by becoming a proxy patriarch. As Albania modernizes and women’s rights improve, this dying custom is still being practiced by women in small villages.

The burrneshas, translated as “he-she”, custom is one that has existed historically in Albania, dating back to the fifteenth century. In the Balkan tribal communities, they followed a Kanun law, according to The Huffington Post. They also say, Kanun law is particularly restrictive towards women as it “prohibits women from voting, driving, earning money or wearing pants.”

This law also mandated that tribal clans had to outcast any families without a male figure. Because of internal tribal warfare, however, men in the families were often killed. Women in families then faced a dilemma, how they could maintain their family’s honor. If there was a virginal female in the family, though, they could to assume the role of patriarch and become a man to save the family.

Part of the burrneshas transition to becoming a man means taking an oath of virginity. A photographer who documented burrneshas, Jill Peters, wrote on her website about these women saying, “Becoming a sworn virgin or burrnesha elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population.” She continued, “In order to manifest the transition, such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name. [… ] Most importantly of all, she took a celibacy vow to remain chaste for life.”

Even though these women are faced with the obligation of preserving their family’s honor by living a restricted life, unable to have a family of their own, they do not see it as a burden. Peters told Slate, “None of them had regrets. They’re very proud of their families, of their nephews and nieces.” Because of the sacrifice these women make, they are actually treated as respected individuals in their community.

In many cases, living as a burrnesha is liberating for Albanian women for whom marriages are arranged and lives restricted to the household. Pashe Keqi, a burrnesha, told The New York Times how she felt freer living as a man saying, “I was totally free as a man because no one knew I was a woman.” She continued, “I could go wherever I wanted to and no one would dare swear at me because I could beat them up. I was only with men. I don’t know how to do women’s talk. I am never scared.”

With modernization spreading in Albania, women are gaining more rights and with that the burrnesha tradition is diminishing. Thus, the older generations are believed to be the most authentic burrneshas because they were forced into the lifestyle—as opposed to women today that are not under as much pressure. Qamile Stema, the last burrnesha in her village told The New York Times, “We respect sworn virgins very much and consider them as men because of their great sacrifice. But there is no longer a stigma not to have a man of the house.”

Slate reports that actually only a few dozen burrneshas still practice, mostly in remote areas. As the country continues to modernize progress for women, the burrnesha tradition will become obsolete.

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

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Iran: Morality Laws Lead to Arrest of Dancing to “Happy” Celebrants

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 00:52 p.m. DST, 22 May 2014

House Party, Iran, Photo by Beyond Borders Media

TEHRAN, Iran — Three men and three women were arrested in Tehran after posting a YouTube video of themselves dancing to Pharrell Williams’s hit song “Happy."

The video entitled “Happy in Tehran” was deemed obscene by the Tehran police chief, Hossein Sajedinia. The country, however, has rallied around the six young Iranians and is criticizing the government for being too socially restrictive.

Subsequently, five of the dancers in the video have been released, but the director is still being held in police custody, according to CNN.

The “Happy in Tehran” video depicts the Iranians dancing around different locations to the song “Happy”. Most notably, the three women were publicly unveiled—a punishable offense in Iran. It became a viral video in Iran and was shared all over social media. When it was posted in April, the video garnered more than 165, 000 views on YouTube before it was blocked.

After the attention that the video received, it also caught the attention of Tehran police who determined that making the video was criminal. Police Chief Sajedinia explained to the state-run Iranian Students' News Agency why the video creators had been detained, “After a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity was released in cyberspace, police decided to identify those involved in making that clip.”

Sajedinia decided to make an example out of the creators adding, “Our dear youths should try to avoid these kinds of people. Like actors, singers, and these kinds of problems. Try to avoid it.”

The police tricked the video creators into their arrest, a source told Iran Wire.  The sources said, “All of the young producers received phone calls informing them that a friend had suffered a car accident and required their help. When they arrived at the address they had been given over the phone, security forces were waiting to arrest them.”

After the arrest, The Huffington Post says a public interrogation was held on Iranian state TV. On Iranian TV, the video creators were identified as “actors” who were coerced into making the video for an audition and told that it would not be aired.

The Iranian regime that has been in power since the 1979 revolution enforces conservative, religious values that result in the limitations of internet publication. The “Happy in Tehran” video represents how social media has been used globally to rebel against this kind of hardliner authority. After the arrests of the creators, most people seemed to defend them. Other Iranians reposted the video adding “#FreeHappyIranians” in support of the detained.

Even the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, came to the defense of the creators. He tweeted today, in reference to the five creators’ release, a quote he made last year, “#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Reuters reports that Rouhani has been vocal about his opposition to harsh internet censorship saying in a speech from this weekend, “We ought to see (the Internet) as an opportunity.

We must recognize our citizens' right to connect to the World Wide Web.” Pharrell Williams, the singer of “Happy”, also spoke out in support of the six Iranians. The Grammy Award winner posted on his Facebook page, “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.”

The video credits seem to suggest their intentions were just that harmless as it reads, “We have made this video as Pharrell Williams' Fans in 8 hours, with iPhone 5S. 'Happy' was an excuse to be happy. We enjoyed every second of making it. Hope it puts a smile on your face. © All Rights Reserved by Sol Production.” According to the video creators, the purpose of the video was to celebrate the UN's International Day of Happiness. Neda, one of the arrested dancers told Iran Wire, “We wanted to tell the world that the Iranian capital is full of lively young people and change the harsh and rough image that the world sees on the news.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Outrage After Turkish Mine Explosion Kills Over 200

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Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 21:04 p.m. DST, 15 May 2014

"Orgreave S24's washout (3 of 3)  Photo by: Earthwatcher

SOMA, Turkey— At least 245 Turkish miners have died and 120 are still trapped after an explosion of a coal mine in what is being called the “worst industrial accident in the country’s history”. Hopes of rescuing the remaining miners are “dimming” according to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz. Thousands of people are rallying in response in Turkey, angered by the disaster and the lacking efforts from the government and rescue agencies.

The explosion in the mine occurred after a malfunction with a power unit. This has resulted in a power outage in the mine, making the mine cages inoperative and thus rescue efforts far more difficult. It is also reported by The Guardian that fires from the blast had not yet been extinguished, 18 hours after the explosion. Most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide poisoning as claimed by Yildiz. Reuters reported that oxygen is being pumped into the mine in order to keep the remaining trapped miners alive. However, Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers says, “Unless we have a major miracle, we shouldn't expect anyone to emerge alive at this point.”

Tensions are rising above ground as well in the nearest city to the mine, Soma. Friends and relatives of the deceased and trapped miners are venting frustrations against Prime Minister Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. Erdoğan’s government has a questionable history with the mining industry. Turkey was ranked third worst for worker deaths by the International Labour Organization in 2012. The New York Times says just two weeks ago they vetoed a proposition for a parliamentary commission that would try to alleviate the dangerous conditions in the mining industry. His government is further criticized for not responding to his rival party, Republican People's Party. They requested action on work-related incidents in the Soma mines in April, but were refused.

Violent demonstrations concerning the mining accident are occurring in Soma as well as in the country’s largest city, Istanbul, and the capital, Ankara. Wednesday afternoon protestors, mostly teens and 20-somethings, confronted riot police at the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party, according to The Huffington Post. They also said that the police were equipped with gas masks and water cannons. The protestors could be heard shouting that Erdoğan was a “murderer” and a “thief”. It was reported that hundreds of protestors were also at the Soma Holding headquarters, the company that owns the mine.

Erdoğan’s presence at the mine furthers the anticipation of his candidacy in the upcoming presidential election, despite him not confirming a bid. He has postponed an international trip, instead going to visit the mine. He also has declared three days of mourning in Turkey for those miners lost. According to The Huffington Post, in the past he has been unsympathetic to the dangerous mining conditions in Turkey, saying after a 2010 accident where 30 miners died that it is part of the “profession's fate”. In the case of this accident in Soma, Erdoğan insists that it will be fully investigated. On the miners still trapped, the prime minister said, “Our hope is that, God willing, they will be brought out. That is what we are waiting for."

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

Social Media Bans Persist in Turkey

recep tayyip erdogan, photo by cvrcak1

recep tayyip erdogan, photo by cvrcak1

TURKEY, Ankara - First Twitter and now YouTube, social media platforms in Turkey are continually being banned by the Turkish Telecommunications Authority. This latest YouTube ban comes after a video posted on March 27 on the site that is supposedly of an audio recording of top Turkish officials discussing a military operation against Syria, according to CNN.

This leak was followed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s accusations that YouTube and Twitter are being used to slander and spy on the government. The Twitterban came first on 21 March 2014 after a re-election rally during which CNN quoted Erdoğan as saying he was determined to “root out Twitter”; however, the ban was deemed unconstitutional by the Turkish high court.  The YouTube ban followed six days later.

Besides the audio recording of a planned false-flag against Syria, more audio was leaked that incriminate the Justice and Development party leader, Erdoğan. What he calls “immorally edited material”, had been published on YouTube that supposedly was of Erdoğan instructing his son to hide millions of dollars from the police, further implicating him of corruption allegations.

After public outcry and protest, the 27 March 2014 YouTube ban was overturned 2 April 2014. Al Arabiya News said that the ban was found to be in violation of human right and instead of a site-wide sanction, 15-videos were banned. However, just two days following the lifting of the ban, it has been reinstated.  This back-and-forth with the rulings against YouTube has created more mass disapproval in Turkey and internationally.

Turkey has been vying for admission into the European Union, but after these latest regulations by the Turkish government, it seems like this may be less and less of a possibility. An anonymous high-ranking EU official spoke on Turkey’s EU bid to Today’s Zaman saying, “For Turkey's EU membership, countries like France and Germany will eventually seek a referendum for public support, and Turkey has lost the support of young and liberal constituencies in the EU with its ban on social media. This [ban] has definitely not brought Turkey closer to the EU.”

Losing EU favor is only the beginning. The US has also been vocal about their objection to Erdoğan’s social media ban. Al Arabiya News reported that last Friday, Washington had been urging the Turkish government to “open all social media space in Turkey”.

Even the massive internet company Google has joined the protest against the YouTube ban. Russia Today reported that Google has appealed the YouTube ban to Turkey’s Constitutional Court. Since Google Inc. is the owner of YouTube, a Google spokesperson told Wall Street Journal via email, “it is obviously very disappointing to people and businesses in Turkey that YouTube is still blocked, and we are actively challenging the ban in the courts,” and that the YouTube ban impedes on “freedom of speech”.

Any negative impact of these social bans on Erdoğan’s chances of winning has yet to be determined. Prime Minister Erdoğan is currently running in the Turkish presidential election. Local elections in Ankara were challenged March 30 after claims of corrupted results, of which Erdoğan won. Reuters reported that the opposition party’s call for a recount was denied. It appears that in local elections his candidacy has not been tainted. Turkish national elections for presidency will take place on 10 August 2014.

Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright