Female musicians are not allowed to go onstage and give live performances in Isfahan. Mohammad Qotbi, the head of the Isfahan Culture and Guidance administration and also a member of the clergy, compared music bands to the national football team, saying that just as there are substitutes for players on the football team, music groups should also have substitutes for their females players.

This is an instance of how the decentralization of censorship is unleashing a wider scope of censorship in Iran. On Monday May 27, Alireza Qorbani gave a performance together with the Eshtiyaq music group at Kosar Hall in Isfahan. The concert, which coincided with the Isfahan Music Festival, was delayed for 50 minutes by Isfahan Culture and Guidance officials, who had stopped the female musicians from going on stage.

Mohammad Qotbi said Isfahan is a very religious city and female musicians cannot go onstage there. He claimed this unwritten law has been observed in the city for over 10 years. Qotbi elaborated on the prohibition of female players in the Shargh daily, saying: “On the national football team there are also many individuals; however, when for any reason one of the players cannot go on the field, someone will substitute for him.”

He stressed that music groups that perform in Isfahan must comply with the unwritten laws of Isfahan Culture and Guidance and have a contingency plan to replace their female members. According to his statistics, in that past year 212 concerts were performed in Isfahan and only 10 to 12 of them were by groups from outside the city. Therefore, he concluded that Isfahan has no need for performances by music groups from other cities.

Nasim Ahmadian, the head of an all-women music group called Nasim, plays the santour and lives in Isfahan. She responded to Qotbi’s statements in the Shargh newspaper, saying: “The omission of female players in Isfahan has led to the deterioration of the music scene in the province. Women make up half of the active and creative population and they have been paralyzed.”

The head of Isfahan Culture and Guidance says female musicians can go to other cities to perform onstage and gain experience.

In order to get a permit to perform popular music in Isfahan, the program must also include traditional music. The many restrictions on musical performances have put a heavy strain on cultural activities in the city.

Ministry of Guidance Planning Council recently gave permission to five provincial offices to make independent local decisions about censoring books and publications. Efforts by the Rohani administration’s minister of Culture and Guidance, Ali Jannati, to loosen censorship restrictions have been stifled, and now this policy of decentralizing censorship rule-making is threatening to become a way to further entrench censorship all across the country. In this way, the central government will not be held accountable for local decisions on censorship, which may likely be geared toward tightening regulations without establishing any standard guidelines for censorship practices.

Banning female musicians from giving live performances in Isfahan may be a taste of how the decentralization of censorship will unfold across the country.