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Iran: authorities in huge crackdown on women for not wearing headscarves

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New enforcement drive includes thousands of police warning texts, confiscation of cars, job dismissals and people referred to courts

In one case earlier this month, a woman was ordered to wash corpses in a morgue as part of her punishment 

Proposed new law could introduce raft of additional penalties against athletes, artists and other public figures, including flogging and imprisonment 

‘Morality policing in Iran is back’ - Agnès Callamard

The Iranian authorities are doubling down on their oppression of Iranian women and girls for defying degrading compulsory veiling laws, Amnesty International said in a new nine-page briefing today.

According to Iranian officials, in the two months to 14 June the police sent almost a million text warning messages to women seen on camera without a headscarf in their cars.

In addition, police are said to have issued 133,174 texts requiring the immobilisation of vehicles for a specific duration, confiscated 2,000 cars, and referred more than 4,000 “repeat offenders” to the judiciary. They also say that 108,211 reports on the enforcement of compulsory veiling laws had been gathered about “offences” within businesses, and that 300 “offenders” had been identified and referred to the courts.

Additionally, numerous women have been suspended or expelled from universities, barred from sitting final exams, and denied access to banking services and public transport, while hundreds of businesses have been forcibly closed for not enforcing compulsory veiling. 

In the latest escalation on 16 July, a police spokesperson announced the return of police patrols to enforce compulsory veiling and threatened legal action against women and girls seen in public without headscarves. 

Videos circulating on social media have shown women being assaulted by officials in Tehran and the city of Rasht, with security forces firing teargas towards people helping women escape arrests in Rasht.

A woman in Esfahan province who received a text message ordering her to immobilise her car for 15 days for removing her headscarf when driving, told Amnesty:

“Emotionally and psychologically, all these threats they [the authorities] have made have had a very negative impact on us … The Islamic Republic wants to show that they can go to any extent when it comes to enforcing compulsory veiling ... They want to present themselves to the international community as moving away from violence but, in reality, they are carrying out these actions discreetly. They are truly creating fear in our existence.”  

The intensified crackdown exposes the dubious nature of the Iranian authorities’ previous claims of disbanding the “morality” police, amid recent contradictory official statements over its return to Iranian streets.  

Amnesty is calling for the Iranian authorities to abolish compulsory veiling laws, quash all convictions and sentences in relation to the requirement, drop all charges against those currently facing prosecution, and unconditionally release anyone in detention for defying compulsory veiling. The authorities must also abandon plans to punish women and girls for exercising their rights to equality, privacy and freedom of expression, religion and belief.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

“Morality policing in Iran is back.  

“Today’s crackdown is intensified by mass surveillance technologies capable of identifying unveiled women in their cars and pedestrian spaces.

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

“The response of states should not be limited to forceful public statements and diplomatic interventions, but also involve the pursuit of legal pathways to hold Iranian officials accountable for ordering, planning and committing widespread and systematic human rights violations against women and girls through the implementation of compulsory veiling.

“All governments must do everything in their power to support women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution and serious human rights violations in Iran, ensure they can access swift and safe refugee procedures, and under no circumstances should they be forcibly returned to Iran.”

New bill to ‘support the culture of chastity and hijab’ 

On 21 May, in an attempt to further codify and intensify the crackdown, the judicial and executive authorities presented a bill to “support the culture of chastity and hijab” to parliament. Under this proposed legislation, women and girls who appear without headscarves in public spaces and on social media, or who show “nakedness of a body part or wear thin or tight clothes”, will face a catalogue of penalties. These include monetary fines, confiscation of cars and communication devices, driving bans, deductions to salary and employment benefits, dismissal from work and prohibition on accessing banking services.

The draft bill includes proposals to sentence women and girls convicted of defying veiling laws “on a systemic basis or in collusion with foreign intelligence and security services” to between two and five years’ imprisonment, as well as travel bans and forced residency in a specified location. Managers of public institutions and private businesses who allow unveiled employees and customers within their premises would face penalties ranging from closures to lengthy prison sentences and travel bans. The bill also proposes a range of sanctions against athletes, artists and other public figures defying veiling laws, including bans on professional activities, imprisonment, flogging and fines. Earlier this week (23 July), a parliamentary committee indicated it had sent the revised bill to the Iranian parliament for review though the revised text has not yet been made public.


Meanwhiile, the authorities have also used the country’s Islamic penal code to prosecute and impose degrading punishments on women who’ve appeared in public without headscarves. Amnesty has reviewed verdicts issued against six women earlier this month and in June requiring them to attend counselling sessions for “anti-social personality disorder”, wash corpses in a morgue, or clean government buildings.

This assault on women’s and girls’ rights is taking place amid a spate of hateful statements by officials and state media, referring to unveiling as a “virus”, a “social illness”, a “disorder” and an example of “sexual depravity”

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Iran briefing, 26 July 2023.pdf