Iran Arrests 17 Over Social-Media Video Pranks

By RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Iranian police say they have arrested 17 people suspected of filming candid-camera pranks that boosted their social-media followings but incited panic in the streets of Tehran.

Those arrested allegedly "amused themselves by playing on people's nerves and the peace and security of the public by filming candid-camera footage of horror gags on the streets of the capital," Tehran police chief General Hossein Rahimi told the state-run Iran newspaper on January 26.

In Tehran in recent weeks, men have smashed cakes in the faces of bystanders on subway escalators and actors posing as private taxi drivers have opened fire on passengers with paintball guns, while others tossed eggs at pedestrians.

The stream of prank videos circulating on Iranian social media has racked up thousands of views.

In the videos, some victims of the pranks appear terrified or angry. One man hit with a pie on an escalator is seen chasing the laughing pranksters and throwing a shoe at them before trying to beat one of the men up.

The cake-throwing prankster, an information-technology graduate identified by the Iran daily by his first name, Shahab, was quoted as saying he "just wanted to make people happy and also increase my Instagram followers."

He told the newspaper that after each prank he gave victims about $20, did their laundry, and sought their permission to publish the videos on social media.

But the head of Tehran's cyberpolice, Colonel Davoud Moazzami, expressed outrage over the videos, saying that "all 17 of those arrested had received university educations and worked for respected companies."

"They filmed these candid-camera videos to attract followers and advertising on Instagram and Twitter," Moazzami said.

Iran's conservative authorities maintain tight control over the Internet and block access to various social-media websites such as YouTube and Twitter.

They have also cracked down on what they describe as un-Islamic and immoral Internet activity.

In 2014, six men and women were detained for dancing in a YouTube video to the Pharrell Williams song Happy. They were later sentenced to suspended jail terms.

Many Iranians use virtual private networks and proxies to circumvent government restrictions on the web.

With reporting by AP and AFP