May 20, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Arrests More Than 260 People at Alleged ‘Satanist’ Gathering

May 20, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Arrests More Than 260 People at Alleged ‘Satanist’ Gathering

Latest Developments

Iranian police announced the arrest of more than 260 people for promoting “satanism and nudity” at a gathering in the city of Shahriar on May 17, Tehran’s state media reported. The detainees, who included 146 men and 115 women, displayed “signs and symbols of satanism on their clothes, head, face, and hair,” the regime’s police said. However, the specific nature of the “satanism” remains unclear. At least three of the detainees are European citizens, though the police did not identify their nationalities. During the arrests, the police seized alcohol and psychoactive drugs, which are prohibited in Iran, as are gatherings of women and men who are not related.

Expert Analysis

“What makes the Islamist regime in Tehran fundamentally different from other typical dictatorships is its absolute obsession with regulating every aspect of people’s existence, including their private lives and relationships, under Sharia law. This regime’s permanent and continuous jihad against human nature is what will ultimately lead to its inevitable downfall.” — Saeed Ghasseminejad, FDD Senior Iran and Financial Economics Advisor

“Labeling youth dissidents with false accusations to justify persecution is deeply rooted in the regime’s stringent enforcement of its Islamist ideology. Criminalizing lifestyles that deviate from their imposed way of life highlights the Islamic Republic’s profound fear of its loosening grasp over Iranian youth. This ideological dissonance between the first and third generations of the Islamic Revolution is the regime’s Achilles’ heel.” — Janatan Sayeh, FDD Research Analyst

A Broader Crackdown

The Islamic Republic’s arrests come amid a broader crackdown on dissent, particularly against women who fail to wear the hijab, or headscarf, in public. In recent weeks, Tehran has arrested scores of women, many between the ages of 15 and 17, who refused to follow the hijab laws. The regime has also closed hundreds of businesses that have not enforced the prohibition. Numerous Iranian women have turned to social media to recount experiences in which Iran’s morality police physically assaulted and detained them, taking their photos as a means of intimidation. The sudden death on May 19 of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash has escalated fears that the crackdown will intensify.

Enforcing Iran’s Islamist Ideology

The 260 arrests reflect the regime’s radical Islamist creed, which seeks to rid Iran of foreign influences and ideologies that contradict the values of the Islamic Revolution. Iran regards the public expression of sexuality — defined broadly by the regime to include uncovered female heads and mingling between unrelated men and women — as a Western transgression that subverts Islam. Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance vigorously vets books, museum exhibitions, television stations, music, concerts, the fashion industry, and theatrical performances, all of which require a permit from the ministry. The regime has even edited literary classics like War and Peace and Crime and Punishment by removing references to alcohol and sexuality.

Drugs as a Capital Offense

Drug-related offenses are subject to capital punishment in the Islamic Republic. According to the Norway-based nonprofit Iran Human Rights (IHR), Tehran executed at least 471 people for drug-related offenses in 2023. The figure constitutes “an 84% rise compared to 2022 … and about 18 times the average of drug-related executions in 2018-2020,” IHR reported. A 2023 report by the United Nations called on Tehran to “immediately halt the execution of all individuals, including those sentenced to death in the context of protests and for drug-related offences, and to refrain from further application of the death penalty.” The Islamic Republic has yet to comply, executing some 230 people in 2024 to date, IHR said.

Executions Surge in Iran as Protests Persist,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran Sentences Popular Rapper to Death Amid Widening Crackdown on Dissent,”

Iran’s Noor Plan Intensifies Crackdown on Women,” FDD Flash Brief

Why Iran’s regime fears women’s hair,” by Tzvi Kahn


Iran Iran Human Rights