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Why Some Iranians Posted Nude Photos to Celebrate Raisi’s Death

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Women covered in dark veils, wailing at the death of Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi in public displays of sadness, couldn’t contrast more than the joy exhibited in street parties, morbid jokes, fireworks and more recently – nude photos.

Some Iranians, women and men, posted nude photos of themselves to rejoice in the news.

Using nudity to express joy over Raisi’s death is a way to release from a form of “suffocation,” said Hanieh Ziaei, a political scientist and associate researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Montreal.

“They feel suffocated. So they want to just open everything and it’s maybe the expression of this kind of suffocation,” said Ziaie.

The call to go nude to celebrate Raisi’s death reportedly started off with a tweet by an Iranian social media influencer who allegedly posted to X at the time of Raisi’s disappearance that if he is dead she would pose a naked photo.

Iran International is not revealing the account for their safety. It is not known whether she meant it as a joke, a dare or a form of political expression, but it did lead to some Iranians joining the call and going nude. What seemingly started off as a bet, turned into a viral trend.

Given the forced policing of women and even men’s bodies in the Islamic Republic, the use of the body to overcome oppression, according to Siavash Rokni, who specializes in subcultures and social movements in social media, fits with the narrative of defying oppression.

Raisi, he said, is the epitome of oppression.

“Nudity and body has always been a taboo. And it has also been an object or something to protest with.”

Rokni told Iran International that you don’t have to go far back in history to see examples.

“The hippie movement, an anti-war movement in the 1960s and 70s would be an example of it. More recent, the Femen movement that started in Europe and has gone to other countries in North America and Asia, is an example of using nudity as a form of protest movement. The big piece in this whole story is the fact that a body is a form of speech.”

Rokni said by going nude, these Iranians started a conversation against patriarchy and against the taboo of body shaming that has been in Iranian society, especially since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, he said.

“Raisi took lives. He was a murderer, but he also suppressed bodies. When people are sharing their bodies, they’re literally going against this patriarchy in our society, but they’re going specifically against Raisi and the crimes that he committed for the past 40 years,” said Rokni.

Raisi, the so-called ‘Butcher of Tehran’, was one of four judges who sat on a prosecution committee in 1988 that ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners – some were reportedly as young as 13 years old.

Raisi denied his role in the 1988 massacre, but in 2021, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard urged an investigation of the President for his alleged “crimes against humanity” while he was head of the judiciary.

The conservative hardline cleric took office in August 2021 and was known for enforcing brutal crackdowns on political opposition, and for policing women’s bodies.

A recent UN Fact Finding Mission found various cases of rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence like gang rape and electric shocks to the genitals. It also uncovered the use of AI technology to identify and punish women who didn’t follow the country’s strict dress code.

Ziaei said “the body is forbidden,” in Iran and by going nude, “it’s another way to express their frustration.”

“The body is becoming a political space,” said Ziaei.

However, it could also be used by cyberbots of the Islamic Republic to discredit the Women-Life-Freedom movement, and it wouldn’t be the first time an Iranian women’s body was used against her, said Ziaei.

By publishing some nude photos, cyberbots, possibly working for the regime, might try to tell more traditionalist Iranians that this is what opposition activists do. If you trust them and follow their lead, your families can also lose their moral compass.

In 2015, actress and human rights activist Golshifteh Farahani posed nude in a French magazine, and received backlash.

Ziaei said that photo can be seen as a “symbolic act.”

Rokni said the negative backlash only exposed the patriarchy in Iranian society.

“Iranians obsessed over the fact that Golshifteh Farahani an Iranian, you know, showed a nude photo of herself, which is interesting because it is okay for the French to be nude, but once it’s an Iranian, it’s different for some reason. So it just shows you how we have a problem with body,” said Rokni.

Iranian-Canadian Lily Pourzand, an expert in gender equality, came to Farahani’s defense at the time and said she paid a price for it.

“Part of the society feels that they own women’s body,” said Pourzand.

As a gender equality expert, Pourzand said, she can’t comment on whether going nude after the President’s death is effective, but she said it does carry much symbolism.

“That act of protest, which should showcase itself in celebration mood, I think it’s a message. That’s saying no to the governmental ideology and forceful ownership over women’s body, over women’s life in Iran,” she said.

Pourzand said it could be seen as taking back ownership of one’s body.

Whether the nude photos posted in the wake of Raisi’s death to celebrate his end, were done in fun, a dare or an act of defiance, is not known but what is known, said Rokni, is nudity is a form of resistance to reclaim control in a repressed society that stands for gender apartheid.

“After the revolution, one of the points that really solidified the Islamic Republic was the domination over body. Domination over body of women by putting scarves over their heads, putting hijab over their heads, but also domination of men by asking them not to wear short sleeved shirts,” said Rokni.