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 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.