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Iran: crackdown on women defying dress code

A young woman who is not wearing a mandatory headscarf walks past a mural in Tehran in February.Morteza Nikoubazl / NurPhoto via Getty Images

Iran has launched a major new crackdown on women defying the country’s strict dress code, deploying large numbers of police to enforce laws requiring women to wear headscarves in public, according to human rights advocates.

The campaign began last month just as military tensions spiked between Iran and Israel.

Condemning the effort as a “war on women,” Amnesty International said in a statement this week that “security forces across the country have intensified their violent enforcement of compulsory veiling.”

Dubbed the “Noor” (Light) campaign, Iranian officials say the operation is aimed at enforcing the country’s mandatory hijab law, which requires women to cover their heads and the shape of their bodies. The operation marks the most serious effort yet by the regime to try to reassert the government’s authority after women-led protests in 2022 and 2023 challenged the mandatory hijab law.

The protests erupted in the wake of the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in a hospital three days after she was detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly not adhering to the mandatory headscarf law.

The demonstrations, which came to be known as the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, were eventually crushed, but many women and girls across the country have continued to flout the dress code, appearing in public with their hair uncovered.

The police operation could have “tragic consequences,” Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told NBC News.

“Amid increasing dissent at home and international attention focused on regional tensions, the Islamic Republic is grabbing the opportunity to intensify its campaign of repression against dissent,” Ghaemi said in an earlier statement.

“Women and girls in Iran are already subjected to severe discrimination in Iran, yet these actions significantly increase the threat of unchecked state violence against them,” he said.

Tehran police chief Abbasali Mohammadian announced the operation on state TV on April 13, just as Iran launched its drone and missile attack on Israel.

“Starting today, police in Tehran and other cities will carry out measures against those who violate the hijab law,” the police chief said.

The United Nations Human Rights Office has expressed concern over the crackdown.

“What we have seen, what we’re hearing is, in the past months, that the authorities, whether they be plainclothes police or policemen in uniform, are increasingly enforcing the hijab bill,” Jeremy Laurence, a spokesman for the office, told reporters last month.

“There have been reports of widespread arrests and harassment of women and girls — many between the ages of 15 and 17,” he said.

Laurence also said hundreds of businesses and restaurants have been shut down by authorities for allegedly failing to enforce the hijab law.

A U.N. fact-finding mission said in March that Iran is to blame for the “physical violence” that killed Amini and found that Iran committed crimes against humanity in its violent repression of the subsequent protests.

Iran has denied responsibility for Amini’s death and rejected accusations from human rights organizations, witnesses and foreign governments that it crushed peaceful protests with violence.


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