30 Arrested for Practising “Indecent” Discipline of Yoga
After 30 people were arrested for practicing yoga inside a home in the Iranian city of Gorgan, several individuals based in the country told the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) that the arrests are not uncommon but rarely publicly acknowledged by officials.
In this case, the assistant prosecutor of Golestan Province told the state-funded Tasnim News Agency that 30 unidentified men and women in “inappropriate clothing” were arrested at the home of a person who will be prosecuted for allowing unlicensed yoga to occur there.
“A person posted an ad on social media [Instagram] about teaching yoga to women and men at his home that led to the discovery of a series of contacts,”said Masoud Soleimani on May 22, 2019.
“This individual did not have a license for a sports club and held his yoga classes in a private residence where women and men wore inappropriate clothing and engaged in indecent activities,” he said.
The official added: “After monitoring their movements, agents today arrested about 30 women and women in very inappropriate clothing at a home whose owner has been delivered to judicial authorities to be prosecuted for breaking the law.”
A women’s rights activist told CHRI that the government “rarely” allows people to officially practice yoga so fans of the ancient Hindu discipline resort to doing it in secret.
“They are very suspicious of yoga and rarely issue permits for holding classes,” said the activist who requested anonymity for security reasons.
“Instead, individuals have to seek a license under the guise of different sports in order to offer yoga,” she said.
Another individual who practices yoga in Tehran told CHRI that people attend small, private sessions to avoid being discovered and prosecuted by the authorities.
Although yoga is growing increasingly popular in Iran, the government and religious leaders regard it as a violation of Shia Islamic morals.
Since he was appointed as the country’s supreme leader in 1989, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has denounced various private lifestyle choices –including listening to or playing western music or watching foreign films–as evidence of the west’s “cultural invasion” in Iran.
A cursory review of the supreme leader’s website shows he has spoken out against this alleged invasion more than 100 times.
“From the very beginning, the Islamic Republic has shown that it will not tolerate the decadent and corrupt Western culture,” Khamenei said at a Friday prayer sermon in March 1990. “In reality, the world powers exert their domination through culture.”
He continued: “This is what the French first did 200 years ago in other countries, and then the British, and lately the Americans. In other words, they exported their language and culture and lifestyle to every country they could. Even if a country is economically independent, the world powers can dominate it through cultural influences.”
A source who has practiced yoga in Iran for more than eight years recalled to CHRI an incident in which the authorities raided a class and arrested the instructor and the students.
“We realized that those who view yoga with suspicion don’t only do so because men and women mix to participate in a physical activity but also because of the way of thinking toward life that’s discussed during these sessions,” said the source. “They don’t understand that this is the people’s right and a matter of private choice.”
News of the arrests in Gorgan was met with criticism by Iranians on social media networks.
“When you don’t understand yoga as a sport and think that the movements are indecent, it leads to a bunch of mental people trying to dictate a certain lifestyle to the entire nation,” tweeted “Persian Banoo” on May 23.
Another Iranian Twitter user, Farid Mousavi, commented: “They will arrest you if you sing. They will arrest you if you dance. They will arrest you if you play an instrument. They will arrest you if the wind blows through your hair. They will arrest you if you think. They will arrest you if you speak. They will arrest you if you ride a bike…”
Iranian user Korosh Tehrani tweeted: “The arrest of a woman in Abyaneh for singing, the closure of Instagram pages belonging to musicians who play the tar and violin, the arrests of 30 women and men at a yoga class, the arrests of 419 people accused of breaking fast [during the month of Ramadan] etc… continues.”
Journalist Behnam Gholipour wrote, “Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi has conquered new heights with the arrest of 30 yoga practitioners in Gorgan for taking part in a group sport.”