Sat, Aug 06, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Hundreds arrested after water pistol game in Iran

The Guardian, LONDON

In the 40?C 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.

On Friday last week, 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. However, the event — organized on Facebook — prompted criticism from conservatives when pictures of it emerged online days later.

Iran’s state television broadcast a program 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.

“It was very intimate,” a boy added. “It was much more intimate than it should have been.”

“A mixed-gender event took place on Friday,” head of Tehran’s morality police Ahmad Roozbehani said. “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, city police chief Hossein Sajedinia confirmed the arrests, blaming the participants for behaving “abnormally” and disobeying Islamic principles.

Iranian lawmakers also condemned the water fight, spreading the debate nationwide.

MP Hossein Ibrahimi said such events would spread “corruption” and were “shameful.”

Some of those held have not been released, including a university student.

The arrests of the organizers and participants of the event came after conservative Web sites urged the regime to identify those behind the water pistol fight.

Organized 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.

Writing a post in response to the arrests, London-based Iranian blogger Potking Azarmehr said: “There are two issues here which have troubled the regime: people having fun and people organizing a gathering through the social media. Both are perceived as a threat by the regime.”

“There were also gatherings for paintball, kite flying, and blowing bubbles. All the events are said to have been organized through Facebook. It’s not clear why the water fight has caused more sensitivity than the previous events,” Golnaz Esfandiari, who has a blog on the Radio Free Europe Web site, Persian Letters, wrote in a recent post.

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