A leading Iranian model has been forced to give a public self-criticism after being charged with "promoting Western promiscuity" for posting pictures of herself online without a headscarf.

Elham Arab, known for her blonde hair, doll-like looks and wedding dress modelling shoots, is one of a string of Iranian models caught up in a sting operation code-named "Spider 2".

The operation is aimed at models and other figures in the fashion industry who have advertised themselves or appeared on Instagram and other social media sites.

Before a hearing at the Iranian Revolutionary Court in a case brought by the special cybercrimes unit, Arab was questioned on camera by the prosecutor, Abbas Doulatabadi.

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Wearing black chador over her newly darkened locks, she said she
regretted entering the fashion business in the first place, describing it as a "mistake".

"I think all humans are interested in admiring beauty and becoming famous," she said.

"But they must first consider at what cost and what they will lose in return.

"For an Iranian film star they may not lose much but for a model she will certainly lose her hijab and honour."

In Islam, hijab can refer both to the headscarf women wear to cover their hair and the principle of modesty that underlies the practice.

The crackdown on the fashion industry is part of a broader renewed emphasis on "Islamic values" under President Hassan Rouhani.

Although he has a reputation as a moderate compared with his hardline predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the regime has been trying to reassert its revolutionary credentials since the nuclear deal was agreed with the West.

Women have been threatened with losing their licences for driving without headscarves, and Javad Babayi, the head of the cyber-crimes court, said the campaign against loose morals had now moved to social media.

"The purpose of Operation Spider 2, which was launched two years ago, is to monitor the use of social media by the Western imperialist powers to change the Iranian-Islamic life-style of our nation," he said.

"During our monitoring we noticed that more than 20 per cent of the social media used by our youth is directed at modelling business via Instagram."

As a result of the operation, seven of the country's leading models had been arrested - named as Melikaa Zamani, Niloofar Behboudi, Donya Moghadam, Dana Nik, Shabnam Molavi, Elnaz Golrokh and Hamid Fadaei.

The last two are said to be married, and to have been among a number of fashion industry players to have subsequently left Iran.

The court has charged the arrested models with offences including "spreading prostitution" and "promoting corruption", saying they promoted "immoral and un-Islamic culture and promiscuity".