Iranian youths arrested for public water pistol fight in Tehran
Hundreds of enthusiasts, male and female, attended event organised on Facebook, attracting criticism from conservatives
In the 40C heat of an Iranian summer, what better way to have fun and stay cool than a water fight with friends? In the Islamic republic, however, things are a bit more complicated.
For one group of boys and girls, their game turned serious when they were arrested for taking part in a water pistol fight in a park in the capital, Tehran.
Last Friday hundreds of enthusiasts used plastic pistols and empty bottles to play in the ironically named Garden of Water and Fire for hours and, to the surprise of many, without police interference. But the event – organised on Facebook – prompted criticism from conservatives when pictures of it emerged online days later.
Iran's state television broadcast a programme on Wednesday showing some of the arrested participants with their backs to the camera, confessing to have played with water and using plastic pistols.
"We had been invited on internet to come and play with water," one girl said. A boy added: "It was very intimate; it was much more intimate than it should have been."
The head of Tehran's morality police, Ahmad Roozbehani said: "A mixed-gender event took place on Friday ... They had been asked to bring water pistol toys, which most of them had in hand ... they acted against social norms."
Speaking to the semi-official Mehr news agency, Hossein Sajedinia, the city's police chief confirmed the arrests, blaming the participants for behaving "abnormally" and disobeying Islamic principles.
Iranian MPs also condemned the water fight, spreading the debate nationwide. Hossein Ibrahimi, a conservative MP, said such events would spread "corruption" and were "shameful".
The Guardian has learned that some of those held have not been released, including a university student.
The arrests of the organisers and participants of the event came after conservative websites urged the regime to identify those behind the water pistol fight.
Organised on a Facebook page called "Tehran's water pistol fight", the event attracted more than 14,000 people and prompted pages promoting similar events in other cities such as Isfahan and Karaj.
Potking Azarmehr, a London-based Iranian blogger who has written a post in response to the arrests, said: "There are two issues here which have troubled the regime: people having fun and people organising a gathering through the social media. Both are perceived as a threat by the regime."
Golnaz Esfandiari, who has a blog on the Radio Free Europe website, Persian Letters, writes in a recent post: "There were also gatherings for paintball, kite flying, and blowing bubbles. All the events are said to have been organised through Facebook. It's not clear why the water fight has caused more sensitivity than the previous events."
Officials have also recently banned swimming in the sea during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
Men and women not related by blood or marriage in Iran are not allowed to touch or have relationships outside social norms. However, many youths continue to push the boundaries, despite a crackdown that has targeted prohibited certain hairstyles and clothing.
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