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Source: RFE/RL

May 27, 2023

Iran's Hard-Liners Blast Tougher Proposed Hijab Legislation -- As Too Lenient

The authorities in Iran have drafted a new bill that would impose stiffer penalties against women who violate the Islamic dress code, including fines, imprisonment, and even the deprivation of rights.

But hard-liners have blasted the “hijab and chastity bill” as too lenient, saying the proposed legislation will not deter women from flouting the mandatory hijab, or Islamic head scarf.

The move comes as the authorities intensify efforts to enforce the hijab as more women fail to comply with the law. Women have been emboldened by the monthslong antiestablishment protests that erupted in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini soon after she was arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly improperly wearing the head scarf.

In April, Iranian police began to use surveillance cameras to identify and punish women who failed to wear the hijab, which became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Authorities also warned that offenders would receive a warning via SMS. Repeat offenders, they warned, could face hefty fines and lose access to mobile phone and Internet services.

It is unclear if the new draft bill aims to codify into law the new measures outlined last month.

Tougher Penalties

According to the text of the bill published by Iranian media, the proposed legislation outlines progressively tougher penalties for violators -- from fines and deprivation of “social rights” to up to three years in prison.

Those who engage in social media campaigns against the hijab will also be punished, according to the text of the bill.

In recent months, an increasing number of women, including celebrities, have appeared in public without a head scarf in a direct challenge to the authorities, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said last month that the removal of the hijab in public is forbidden. Some women have also posted photos and videos of themselves defying the hijab law.

The draft bill also states that those who insult, threaten, or assault women who do not observe the hijab will be punished.

Women have complained that they face routine harassment and violence at the hands of the morality police and pro-government vigilantes seeking to enforce the hijab law.

During the antiestablishment protests, the authorities dismantled the notorious morality police, which was tasked with enforcing the hijab law. Since then, the authorities have said they are working on introducing “smart” methods to enforce the law.

The proposed legislation, drafted by the judiciary, was approved by the government over the weekend and later presented to lawmakers. It is unclear when it will be debated and voted on.

'The Bill To Support The Unveiled'

Hard-liners in Iran have been angered by the draft bill, saying it does not go far enough.

“It is as if the bill was prepared not to deal with unveiling, but with the aim (albeit unintentionally) of removing the existing legal obstacles and laying the groundwork for the expansion of this ugly and hideous phenomenon!” Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of the hard-line daily Kayhan, wrote in an editorial on May 22.

Hard-line eulogist Mehdi Salahshur said on May 23 that the proposed legislation should be renamed “the bill to support the unveiled.”

The daily Hamshahri on May 24 called on the government of President Ebrahim Raisi to revoke the bill, claiming it would create “immunity” for violators by preventing the police as well as hijab enforcers from taking action.

Following the criticism, government spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi said on May 25 that the text of the bill published by the media was not the version approved by the government.

Lawmaker Mohammad Ali Naghali, meanwhile, said that in drafting the bill the judiciary had taken a “minimalistic” approach to the issue of noncompliance of the hijab.

“Under the current conditions, the parliament does not accept the hijab bill. We will amend the bill and [create deterrence] through punishments,” he said.

'Gender Apartheid'

Britain-based feminist activist Samaneh Savadi told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda that the draft bill is an attempt by the authorities to consolidate “gender apartheid” in Iran.

“The Islamic republic is helplessly trying to satisfy its supporters while at the same time [trying to convince] the international community that these actions are legal,” she said, adding that “so far it has failed at both.”

In recent weeks, the authorities have issued public threats and closed hundreds of businesses, including cafes and shopping malls, for allegedly failing to enforce the country's hijab law on their customers.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, a jurist and former vice president, told the Emtedad news site on May 25 that the hijab crackdown was likely to result in more protests.

“Predictions indicate that these encounters will lead to the spread of protests in the not-so-distant future. We see that in response to these strict [measures], unveiling has become widespread,” Molaverdi said.

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