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Iranian Family Launches Protest Over Concerts Canceled By Hard-Liners

Ahmad Mehrchian and his wife, Zohreh Barati, decided to launch their protest after a concert by the veteran traditional musician Shahrem Nazeri (far left) and his son was canceled by authorities at short notice.

A family of four in Iran has launched a symbolic protest against the cancellation of concerts around the country on religious grounds.

In recent years, dozens of concerts and cultural performances have been abruptly called off in Iran following pressure and intimidation by hard-liners who claim such events undermine Islamic values.

The closures of the officially sanctioned concerts have been a direct challenge to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate, who has promised to ease state restrictions and give Iranians more rights and freedom.

The family -- Ahmad Mehrchian, his wife, Zohreh Barati, and their 6-year-old daughter Baran and 4-year-old son Kourosh -- have been walking around the country since July 30 to protest the trend of concerts being canceled.

They plan to continue their protest until the start of the school year in Iran on September 23.

The family, which during its protest meets with local musicians affected by the cancellations, holds signs that say: "We have the right to listen to the songs of our country in our city."

The four hail from Mashhad, where religious conservatives, including the city's ultra-hard-line Friday Prayers leader Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, staunchly oppose concerts.

"We love local and traditional music and also the songs of our country and our cities and we oppose the cancellations of concerts, particularly in our city, Mashhad," Mehrchian told the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

'Very Bad Atmosphere'

Barati, a doctor, said in an interview with the House of Music website that the couple decided to launch their protest after the cancellation of a concert by prominent Iranian tenor Shahram Nazeri and his son, Hafez Nazeri.

"We were very happy when we heard the news about Nazeri's concerts in Guchan," Barati said. "We immediately bought tickets and traveled more than 150 kilometers to get to Guchan [in the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi] on the day of Shahram Nazeri's concert. But unfortunately, there was a very bad atmosphere," she said.

The concert, due to take place on July 28, was canceled following an order by the city's prosecutor, Ramazan Ali Azari, who claimed the concert was called off because its venue was "unsuitable" and that "the dignity of artists and the people of Guchan" had not been taken into account.

"We returned to Mashhad late at night and we decided to let others hear about this cultural problem," Barati added.

Last month, a group of musicians and other members of Iran's music industry called on Rohani to expose and prosecute those working to prevent concerts from taking place in the country.

Their letter reminded Rohani of his promise to uphold citizens' rights and asked if the cancellation of officially approved concerts was a violation of the musicians' rights.

Before the cancellation of Nazeri's concert, 500 members of the music community called on the Culture Ministry to act against those cancelling concerts.

"Preventing musical performances with a license is a clear example of breaking the law and a disruption in the country's affairs and it's obvious that the perpetrators, in any position, must be prosecuted," they said in a letter.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.