Activists say Iran used attack on Israel as cover to launch crackdown on dissent at home

Iranians walk past shops in the capital Tehran on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranians walk past shops in the capital Tehran on April 21, 2024. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

The same day Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel it embarked on a less-noticed confrontation at home, ordering police in several cities to take to the streets to arrest women accused of flouting its strict Islamic dress code.

Iranian authorities insist that their so-called Nour (Light) campaign targets businesses and individuals who defy the hijab law, aiming to respond to demands from devout citizens who are angry about the growing number of unveiled women in public.

But activists and some politicians say the campaign appears aimed not only at enforcing mandatory hijab-wearing, but also at discouraging any wider dissent at a vulnerable moment for the clerical rulers.

Under Iran’s sharia, or Islamic law, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes. Offenders face public rebuke, fines or arrest.

As Iran’s drone and missile assault unfolded on April 13, Tehran police chief Abbasali Mohammadian went on state TV to announce the new campaign.

“Starting today, Police in Tehran and other cities will carry out measures against those who violate the hijab law,” he said, while hundreds of police swept onto the streets of the capital and other cities.

Social media users posted pictures of a heavy morality police presence in Tehran and videos of police violently arresting women they alleged were improperly dressed, including plainclothes security forces dragging young women into police vans.

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