In the latest attack on the Islamic Republic’s growing fashion sector, a court in Shiraz sentenced 12 industry professionals in December 2016 to prison terms ranging from five months to six years.

An investigation by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has revealed that the crackdown on the sector is ongoing, is being led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Intelligence Organization in concert with Iran’s Judiciary, and follows a decree by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei against all forms of perceived western culture.

Following raids organized by the Guards, dozens of people have been interrogated about alleged “modeling networks” while businesses have been shuttered in the cities of Tehran, Qazvin, Arak, Shiraz and Zahedan.

“After they’re summoned, the authorities first order them to log into their Instagram page and delete their account,” said a Tehran-based industry source who spoke to the Campaign about four colleagues who were summoned in November 2016 to answer questions about alleged “immoral” activities. “The authorities also identify people as potential targets by looking at the detainee’s list of Instagram followers and contacts.”

A women’s dress designer in Tehran told the Campaign: “It’s hard to estimate how many have been summoned and harassed by the Revolutionary Guards because it’s bad for business and they’re afraid of losing customers, so no one talks about it. Only a few might tell their friends that the authorities have contacted them, otherwise, they’re careful not to get trapped. Probably the only way you can find out something has gone wrong is when there’s a sudden change on someone’s Instagram page.”

For security reasons, the sources interviewed by the Campaign for this briefing paper asked to remain anonymous.

To legally work in Iran’s fashion industry, people must apply for professional permits including in the fields of photography, design and hairdressing. Specialized organizations and laws regulate the industry. Members must be particularly careful not to engage in activities that could be interpreted as anti-Islamic or Western.

The internet, which is heavily filtered by state authorities, has provided industry members with an outlet for self-promotion, but it is also risky one due to the fact that social media platforms are continuously monitored by state authorities. Many members have launched pages on Instagram, which is one of the few major unfiltered Western-based social media application allowed in the Islamic Republic.

Industry members are increasingly using Instagram to promote their work, and in doing so are pushing the boundaries of permissible activities in Iran. Conservative officials are working to intimidate users into remaining within the Islamic Republic’s interpretation of Islamic standards through interrogations, fines and jail time.

The increasing pressure and restrictions have forced many people to leave the fashion industry or emigrate to freely pursue their profession.

“As in any profession, when there are restrictions [in your own country], or when there are better opportunities elsewhere, there’s a greater chance you will think about emigrating,” Iranian fashion photographer Kourosh Sotoodeh, who left Tehran in 2009 and settled in New York City, told the Campaign. “In the last few decades, many scientists, engineers and even businessmen have moved to countries like Turkey or the United Arab Emirates where there are fewer constraints. Photographers have been no exception in seeking better opportunities.”