Earlier this week, reports indicated that the Iranian government was targeting Kim Kardashian West for possible espionage. A task force within the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps accused the reality TV star of not only using her Instagram account to subvert the nation’s values, but doing so with the help of Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom as a means to influence young people and women to renege Iran’s strict Islamic law.
Kardashian, of course, denied these claims. But beyond providing fodder for the next season of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the Kardashian accusations did shed a light on a serious issue: Iran’s routine targeting and censoring of women who choose to express themselves through fashion and makeup on the social media platform.
Under a surveillance program known as Spider II, the cybercrime branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has targeted 58 models, 51 designers, and 59 photographers and makeup artists. Earlier this week, eight unnamed people in the Iranian fashion industry were arrested for refusing to “reform” their behavior, reports the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.
“Sterilizing popular cyberspaces is on our agenda,” Iranian Center for Surveying and Combating Organised Cyber spokesman Mostafa Alizadeh said, according to a BBC News report. “We carried out this plan in 2013 with Facebook, and now Instagram is the focus.”
Since 1979, Iranian women have been required by law to keep their hair covered in public. However, in choosing to post their own interpretations of the latest fashion, makeup, and hair trends—trends that don’t include the legally-dictated headscarves—many women now find themselves being investigated for accusations of immodesty.
To prevent criminal charges, models like Elham Arab have shut down their Instagram profiles and publicly renounced their “promiscuous” choices. After being featured on a popular Iranian television show (an appearance that was independent from her success on the social media platform), Arab came under scrutiny for her popularity as a model showcasing Kardashian-reminiscent looks. Once famous for her blond hair, Arab appeared in front of the Iranian Revolutionary Court earlier this week—with darker hair kept under a chador—to acknowledge her mistake.
Iranian Model, Elham Arab, answering to Tehran attorney for posting her pictures without scarf on Instagram pic.twitter.com/y1CSM4FrYQ
— potkin azarmehr (@potkazar) May 16, 2016
“All people love beauty and fame,” she said in a statement that was broadcast across national television in Iran. “They would like to be seen, but it is important to know what price they will pay to be seen.”
Others, like model couple Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei, have been forced to flee their home country to escape persecution. Earlier this year, Golrokh, who is also a makeup artist, posted on her Instagram that she and her husband had fled to Dubai. Since leaving Iran, both Golrokh and Fadaei have only furthered their careers as models on the social media platform, with Golrokh’s continued success stemming from her flawless ability to channel the Kardashian aesthetic.
I've been absolutely loving this outfit ? dress : @mistressrocks ❣? Heels : @publicdesire ???? #springdubai #mydubai #stylish #dubaifashionblogger #dubailifestyle #dubaistreetstyle #dubaifashioninsta #dubaiblogger #uaeblogger #picoftheday #styleindubai #outfit #fotd #motd #dubaigirl #MiddleEast #ootd #styleiswhat #streetstyle #IGstyle #lookoftheday #elnazgolrokh #style #styleblogger #womansfashion #lovefashion #fashionstyle #blogger#publicdesire #PDBAE
Despite the ongoing Spider II investigation, human rights groups in Iran are fighting back. “This kind of stifling and intimidation will only deprive Iranians of the cultural and artistic vitality that is rightfully theirs and further alienate the country’s youth,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. “The Revolutionary Guards’ assault on Iran’s fashion industry testifies to the fear of hardliners who try to control every aspect of people’s lives and squash any visible challenge to their narrow world view.”
Considering her omnipresence in today’s media, maybe Kardashian West—with the aid of her sisters—can use the ridiculous accusations against her to shed some light on this Revolutionary Guard’s efforts to “sterilize popular cyberspaces” and help women and fashion professionals in Iran achieve the freedom to express themselves creatively. Because really, who wouldn’t want to watch the KUWTK spin-off, Kim and Kylie Take Iran…to Challenge Instagram Censorship?