Iran is ‘doubling down’ on hijab crackdown, says Amnesty International

Almost a year after Mahsa Amini protests rattled nation, watchdog says Tehran continuing its ‘oppressive methods of policing and punishing women’ under its veiling laws

Iranians drive past a huge billboard showing a montage of pictures titled 'the women of my land, Iran' featuring Iranian women who are all observing the hijab, on Valiasr Square in Tehran, on October 13, 2022. (AFP)
Iranians drive past a huge billboard showing a montage of pictures titled 'the women of my land, Iran' featuring Iranian women who are all observing the hijab, on Valiasr Square in Tehran, on October 13, 2022. (AFP)

Iranian authorities have in recent months launched an intensified crackdown against women deemed to have violated the Islamic Republic’s strict dress rules, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

Iran was convulsed for months by unprecedented protests sparked by the September 2022 custody death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested by the morality police for purportedly breaking the rules. Some politicians inside Iran had argued in the wake of the protests that the rules should be loosened and there were even indications — never confirmed — that the morality police could be abolished.

But with the intensity of protests diminishing over the last months, Amnesty said Iranian authorities had launched a new crackdown on women’s dress since April.

“The Iranian authorities are doubling down their oppressive methods of policing and punishing women and girls to quell widespread defiance of degrading and discriminatory compulsory veiling laws,” Amnesty said.

It has been obligatory for women to cover their heads and necks since shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that ousted the secular shah.

Viral images posted online during the protest movement showed women removing their headscarves as well as carrying out daily tasks, such as shopping, bareheaded.

Iranian students remove their headscarves in protest after the death of Mahsa Amini who had been detained by the country’s morality police, in Tehran, Iran, October 12, 2022. (Twitter)

Some images showing women without headscarves at cafe tables in relatively secular northern Tehran had suggested a more permissive attitude in some areas.

But Amnesty said there is in fact “an intensified nationwide crackdown,” and noted that police this month announced the return of car and foot patrols enforcing compulsory veiling across the country.

According to Amnesty, more than a million women have received SMS warnings threatening that their vehicles will be confiscated if they are found traveling in a car while unveiled.

“Morality policing in Iran is back,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International secretary general. She added the stepped-up enforcement was “intensified by mass surveillance technologies capable of identifying unveiled women in their cars and pedestrian spaces.”

Hundreds of businesses such as hotels, restaurants, pharmacies and shopping centers have been forcibly closed for refusing to enforce compulsory veiling laws while women have been denied access to education, banking services and public transportation, Amnesty said.

Iranians wave the national flag as they march during a pro-hijab rally in the capital Tehran on September 23, 2022. (AFP)

Earlier this month, a “disturbing video” went viral on social media showing a female police officer “harassing and assaulting” an unveiled woman in Tehran, pushing her against a wall and attempting to violently arrest her and take her into a van, the watchdog said.

“The international community must not stand idly by as the Iranian authorities intensify their oppression of women and girls,” Callamard added.

Iran’s conservatives, who dominate the parliament and leadership, have passionately defended the dress code. With many Iranians demanding change, in May the judiciary and the government proposed a bill that sparked heated debate.

It would increase fines for “any person removing their veil in public places or on the internet” but withdraws the threat of a prison sentence.

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