Water Fights Will Get You Arrested in Iran

Iran tries to quash a rash of public water fights

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The Players:  Various Iranian officials like deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan, lawmaker Hossein Ibrahimi and Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeh, spokesman for the judiciary; water fighters and organizers across Iran.

The Opening Serve: Over the summer, Facebook-organized public water fights--yes, the kind fought in backyards and cul-de-sacs with water pistols/squirt guns/Super Soakers, water balloons--have erupted in Iran and have been met with police force. "The people who involve in such actions are either stupid or not respectful of the law," said deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan in a Radio Free Europe report. A mixed crowd of 800 turned out for a water fight in July, which also drew criticism because of mingling of both sexes. "A handful of people who wanted to challenge social norms and [engage] in water fights were arrested by the police...The police will not allow them  to achieve their goals...and will confront the main organizers" of  such events," Radan said. Iranian police contend that the organizers of these events are "counter-revolutionaries" and that law enforcement will "deal forcefully" with "violators who are threatening the security and peace of our society." "These events are a disgrace to our revolution. Our security forces and judiciary must stop the spreading of these morally corrupt actions," conservative lawmaker Hossein Ibrahimi was quoted as saying by Wall Street Journal. In that same report there are allegations of police brutality and raids against a water fight organizer.

The Return Volley: The crackdown on the water fights hasn't gone without criticism. Conservative lawmaker Mohammad Hossein Moghimi said in an AP report that young people were holding water fights because of so many other restrictions on them. "Sometimes, we make it too hard for people and constrict them, so they react," he said. "We have to make people comfortable." Another conservative, Mohammad Reza Zaera said: "I feel bad when I see some youth were detained for water fights. Those who support such detentions think the Islamic system is somehow very fragile." But others are responding more viscerally to Ibrahimi's displeasure and the police's chief's threats. "What kind of a country do we have? Even a water gun can shake its foundations?" writes a reveler named Ashkan on his Facebook--as reported by the WSJ. And over the past weekend, the AP reports that another water fight erupted resulting in more arrests. "This is not simply a game with water. This act is being guided from abroad," said spokesman of the judiciary, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeh. Some of those detained Friday have admitted "they were deceived, and some said they came out based on a call from a counterrevolutionary," he said, quoted in the conservative news website Tabnak. Fearful of the government repercussions, the Wall Street Journal reports that some toy stores have suspended selling toy guns despite an increase in demand. "Every day I have dozens of young people coming in to the shop asking for water guns," said one shopkeeper at a toy store in downtown Tehran. "Our youth won't give up this easily."

What They Say They're Fighting About:  What these water fights mean and whether they are good, bad or anything at all. Iranian officials are insistent they are manifestation of subversive, possibly foreign, "counter-revolutionaries."  While others see them as a form of harmless entertainment.

What They're Really Fighting About: Government control of young people. The protest could have conceivably taken any form. What matters here is that the Iranian government is flexing its power against young people determined to rebel.

Who's Winning Now: The water fighters. With some Facebook pages boasting over 25,000 fans the the outbreak of more water fights through the country, the water fight participants have an edge for now. The image of any government waging a war against squirt guns comes off as silly at best. But clearly, with threats of police brutality and punishments fit for political detainees, the Iranian government doesn't seem to care much about its own image.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.