Remember “No One Knows About Persian Cats”? Bahman Ghobadi’s 2009 film told the tale of two Iranian musicians recently released from prison, who try to form a band with the intention of performing – and then remaining – outside Iran. The film follows the two on the trail of the underground rock scene of Tehran, from the offices of passport forgers to concerts and band practices held surreptitiously in basements, forests and barns.
In the movie’s grim finale, the two despairing musicians, Ashkan and Negar, attend a house party held in secret. When the party is busted by morality police at some point, the two jump out the window and off the roof, respectively – presumably to their deaths.
But as usual, life in Iran can surpass even the bleakest scenarios projected (or predicted) on the big screen. Seemingly straight out of Ghobadi’s film, glum headlines announced this month that an Iranian metal band, ‘Confess,’ had been jailed and was facing execution over blasphemy charges.
Two of the band’s members – Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani, aged 21 and 23 – were placed in solitary confinement for several months before paying the equivalent of US $30,000 in bail. Now, they await their trial; if convicted (most probably after being forced to “confess”), they face between six months to six years in prison. If they are found guilty of blasphemy (not unlikely, considering one of their tracks is titled “I’m Your God”), they could even be executed.
The news was reported by mainstream and rock- or indie-oriented media outlets alike, all of which noted the sad irony in the arrest of musicians whose last album was titled “In Pursuit of Dreams” and who, if its songs are any indication, dreamed of a “New World Order” unencumbered by clerics.
Independent media outlets, like thelip.tv, and loudwire took this issue up, one remarking “When you have open-ended laws, like ‘blasphemy,’ for example, and ‘advertising against the system’ as a law, you can basically […] put someone in jail for whatever […] you want.” Metal Injection began a campaign with the hashtag #FreeConfess.
Clearly, the “moderate” regime’s suppression of rock and other acts is not just the stuff of movies. In 2014, for example (just a few months after President Hassan Rouhani was elected), the BBC reported that “rock, rap, metal and some pop songs are banned” in Iran, and “only songs approved by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance are allowed.” As Confess asked in their first album (and are no doubt still asking now), “Why?”