Iran escalates hijab crackdown amid heightened regional tensions

Iran escalates hijab crackdown amid heightened regional tensions
On the first day of the new hijab rules, Iran's Guidance patrol is back on the streets. / bne IntelliNews
By Guest writer in Tehran April 14, 2024

As Iran grapples with growing regional tensions with Israel, the police forces across the country have announced the resumed enforcement of mandatory hijab rules for women, causing more strife on the streets.

Iranian civil society has been torn over the mandatory hijab since its introduction at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution, which forced women to wear a head covering. The case of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish girl who visited Tehran and died at the hands of the police’s so-called Guidance Patrol in charge of forcing women to wear a head covering, sparked months of turmoil leading to the largest civil disobedience to date and collapse of the hijab rule in large parts of society in the country. Liberal-leaning Iranians have, since Amini’s death, increasingly defied the Islamic Republic’s rules in cities such as Tehran and Shiraz. This direct challenge since the protests prompted MPs in the country to hurry another hijab law through parliament.  

On the first day of the Iranian work week on April 13, major squares and boulevards in Tehran’s crowded central districts were fully occupied with dozens of police forces, morality vans, and police motorbikes.

Despite Iran’s late-night actions on April 13, hurling hundreds of rockets and drones at Israel, the country’s internal security services have also cracked down on women flaunting the strict hijab rules, hoping to stem in what they call an “externally choreographed protest movement.”

In a series of announcements this past week, Iranian authorities had vowed stricter implementation of hijab regulations, with police warning of legal consequences for non-compliance.

The government widely broadcasted the announcement on social media and the country’s official media outlets to guarantee maximum publicity.

The directives come directly on the heels of speeches by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly framed opposition to the mandatory hijab as a "foreign agenda" that must be confronted with "legal and Shariah measures."

Khamenei's dozens of religious subordinates across the country have also repeated his calls in recent hours, promoting “chastity”, which is now being promoted on a local level across several hundred mosques and religious centres.

The representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader in Semnan Province Morteza Motiei called for the enforcement of hijab and modesty standards to begin within government offices, stating that unveiling acts as a tool used by enemies to undermine the Islamic system, he said on April 14.

Motiei stressed the importance of observing hijab, particularly in governmental sectors, as a first step towards broader “societal compliance.”

He claimed that not adhering to these standards assists adversaries in damaging the foundational principles of the Islamic Republic.

During his address, the Friday Imam of Semnan said: “The broader societal implications of hijab and modesty, appealing to all women and girls in the province to adhere to these practices to thwart enemy conspiracies”.

The highly controversial decision to resume strict crackdown and arrest of women who are not observing the mandatory hijab law comes at a time when the country is already hit with widespread public dissatisfaction over the ailing economic conditions and growing uncertainties over the looming shadow of war between Tehran and Tel Aviv and the national currency breaking new record lows.

Many Iranians have taken to social media to reflect their experience or express their thoughts about the strict enforcement of the hijab law again. A university student posted a Guidance Patrol, Iran's morality police, stating that there is no existing legal framework for the enforcement of hijab laws in the country.

In a detailed critique, Borhani emphasized that the police's current measures, including vehicle impoundments, the sealing of businesses, and the restriction of public access based on hijab compliance, lack any legal foundation. "As of today, there is no law named 'Hijab and Chastity' that sanctions such actions," Borhani stated, underscoring that any plan or bill must become law before its implementation, which has not yet occurred.

According to Borhani, various directives issued by the Ministry of the Interior or the Hijab and Chastity Headquarters are invalid. He stressed that these organizations do not possess the authority to enforce legal obligations on citizens.

He further pointed out that non-compliance with the hijab should be treated as a minor visible crime, and law enforcement is only authorized to refer individuals directly to the court system, not detain them. "Police have no right to detain or hold women in police stations or any facilities based solely on this issue," he explained. Additionally, Borhani criticized the police for overstepping their roles, noting that they are even devoid of the authority to issue verbal warnings.