New York-based organization Human Rights Watch has called on Iran to drop charges against women peacefully protesting compulsory hijab and to stop prosecuting women over dress code.
“For decades Iranian authorities have imposed a compulsory dress code on women violating their basic freedom to express themselves and restricting access to economic and social opportunities for anyone who refuses,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now when women are peacefully protesting a discriminatory dress code, authorities are adding to their misdeeds by arresting them.”
The statement by HRW was made on February 24, one day after Iranian police threatened that “although the sentence for not wearing hijab is a two-month imprisonment, anyone encouraging others to take off their hijab would be jailed for 10 years,” Fars News Agency reported.
The statement is based on the police’s interpretation of article 639 of the Iranian penal code, which calls for one to 10 years of imprisonment for those convicted of “opening brothels” and “encouraging people to engage in prostitution.”
Iranians on social media angrily reacted to the statement released by the Police. Ali Mojtahedzadeh, an Iranian lawyer, wrote on his Twitter page: “The statement by the police has no legal value. The police are not in a position to interpret the law. They can simply enforce verdicts issued by judiciary authorities.”
Several Iranian women have been arrested during recent weeks for taking off their headscarf in public and protesting the compulsory hijab while standing on electric utility boxes.
Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) put the number of women arrested for protesting the hijab at 21 as of February 1.
In this video, a hijab protester, Maryam Shariatmadari is pushed to the ground. She has broken here leg.
The most recent cases include Shaparak Shajarizadeh, who was arrested on Wednesday February 21 while peacefully protesting in north Tehran. Her family members have told reporters that she has been beaten up in custody.
Human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh who had earlier warned against violent treatment of jailed women in an interview with Radio Farda, said on February 22 that Shajarizadeh has been released on bail and is to stand trial on February 24.
On Thursday, another woman, Maryam Shariatmadari, was violently pushed down by a policeman while peacefully protesting on an electric utility box in downtown Tehran.
Reports from Tehran say she is now in jail with a broken leg. Social media posts say prison officials did not give her the antibiotic she needed to prevent an infection.
Iranian women started protesting compulsory hijab in public in late December 2017 while Iran was overwhelmed by widespread demonstrations against poverty and social injustice.
The first woman who took off her headscarf on top of an electric utility box was Vida Movahed. Others such as Nargess Hosseini, Azam Jangravi continued the campaign.
Activists on social media reported on February 24 that Nargess Hosseini has been indicted on the same day with three charges: “encouraging others to commit corrupt behavior, not observing hijab regulation, and committing a prohibited act in public.”
The hashtag Girls of Revolution Street, highlighted the campaign, and became "hot" within hours of Vida Movahed’s arrest on December 27.
In a video released on Twitter on February 24, renowned sociologist Fatemeh Sadeqi has said in a speech at Tehran’s Humanities Research Center “No one can ignore these women any longer. Wherever there is a debate about women’s demands, it is also about the girls of Revolution Street.”
The Islamic regime in Iran imposed a mandatory dress code in early 1980s requiring all women including foreign diplomats visiting Iran to wear the hijab.
“The enforcement of a compulsory dress code on women in Iran violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression, as well as to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience,” Human Rights Watch said. “It is also a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international law.”
Iran is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that guarantees people’s right to freedom of expression, to privacy, and to freedom of religion.