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Iranian sting uncovers 'un-Islamic' criminal modeling ring

Iranian moral police have uncovered an "un-Islamic" criminal modeling network on the picture-sharing website Instagram. Eight people were arrested for modeling or publishing photos of women without headscarves.

Iran widened a crackdown on tightly controlled social media and social mores, arresting eight people tied to an alleged "un-Islamic" modeling network on the picture-sharing site Instagram, Iranian media reported on Monday.

In addition to the eight people arrested for modeling or publishing photos of women without a headscarf, criminal cases were opened against 21 other people.

The head of Tehran's cybercrimes court said on state television that 170 people had been identified from their Instagram pages, including 58 models, 59 photographers and 51 fashion salon managers.

"We found out that about 20 percent of the [Iranian] Instagram feed is run by the modeling circle," Javad Babaei said late Sunday.

He accused them of "making and spreading immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity."

The arrests comes a day after model Elham Arab, whose lush blonde hair stands out in her modeling, appeared on a televised "educational court session" speaking before prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi.

"All people love beauty and fame," Arab said, covered in a full black hijab. "They would like to be seen, but it is important to know what price they will pay to be seen."

It was not immediately clear what charges she faced or if she had a lawyer. Her Instagram account was no longer accessible (pictures accessible through the tweet below).

Women are required to cover their hair in Iran, although many push the limits of what is acceptable under the Islamic dress code.

Relaxing dress codes has come under fire from hardliners, who are in a constant back and forth battle with more liberal strands of the administration over the extent of social control.

Iranian voters ushered President Hassan Rouhani into office in part over his more liberal stance, but his power is limited in the face of Iran's myriad competing centers of power and the Supreme Leader. On Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said un-Islamic thoughts on the Internet should be watched and countered.

Iran Junge Frauen vor einem Einkaufszentrum im Nordwesten von Teheran

Young women in Tehran leave some hair showing from their scarves.

"This is a real battlefield. The clerics and seminary students should prepare to enter this field and fight against deviations and erroneous thoughts," Khamenei was quoted as saying on his website.

Iran blocks Facebook, Youtube and many other websites, but many Iranians get around censorship and filtering by using a virtual private network (VPN). Online sedition is monitored by a branch of the feared Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Separately on Monday, the manager of the blogging publishing service Persian Blog, Mahdi Boutorabi, was arrested, Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported. It did not say why he was arrested.

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cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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