Iranian authorities have in the last 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.
– Police patrols –
Viral images posted online during the protest movement showed women removing their headscarves as well as carrying out daily tasks such as shopping bareheaded.
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 travelling 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 centres have been forcibly closed for refusing to enforce compulsory veiling laws while women have been denied access to education, banking services and public transport, Amnesty said.
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. But with many Iranians demanding change, in May the judiciary and the government proposed a bill which 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.