The funeral of an Iranian pop star has drawn out the biggest crowds seen on the streets of the Islamic Republic since mass protests in 2009 over a disputed presidential election.
Morteza Pashaei, who died on Friday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 30, was a singer-composer who won a big following that crossed Iran's political and social divides. His music appealed both to Westernised urbanites and the traditionally devout.
Last week, before he died, large crowds of fans poured into the streets of Tehran, holding candle-lit vigils, praying and humming his hit song "One-way Street", an ode on unrequited love.
His funeral in Tehran today brought out thousands of Iranians, both supporters of the Islamic government and secular-minded critics, in a rare moment of solidarity in a polarised country.
State television showed Pashaei’s coffin, bedecked in flowers and the Iranian flag, moving toward Behesht-e Zahra cemetery in south Tehran. Mourners in black sobbed, sang and waved his picture on his latest album cover.
The crowd grew ever bigger as young fans alerted each other by text, disrupting commuter traffic. Many filmed and broadcast through social media in defiance of security forces present in force.
“It was so overcrowded that some planned services had to be cancelled. Repeated pleas for cooperation from Pashaei’s father had no effect,” said the official IRNA news agency.
Fearing a repeat of mass demonstrations following ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed 2009 re-election, Iranian security forces are vigilant against any planned or impromptu public congregations.
In a country where Western-inspired entertainment is frowned upon as “un-Islamic”, establishment media tried to give a spiritual spin to Pashaei and his work, showing him in acts of prayer or during pilgrimage.
Music has had a difficult time in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The clergy have allowed traditional Iranian music to be produced and aired, but many young musicians with taste for such popular genres as rock, rap and hip-hop have been forced to go underground.