World News

Iran steps up policing of Islamic dress - report

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has doubled the number of police assigned to its more than year-long crackdown against women flouting Islamic dress codes, Kargozaran newspaper said on Wednesday.

An Iranian woman sits on the southern beach on the island of Kish in the Persian Gulf 1250 km south of Tehran August 4, 2008. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

The daily gave no figures but the report, as well as remarks made by a police official to Reuters on Wednesday, indicate the authorities’ determination to press ahead with the longest clampdown against “immoral behaviour” in recent years.

The latest campaign began in mid-2007. Such strict codes were tightly enforced in the early years after the 1979 Islamic revolution but in more recent years campaigns have tended to last just weeks or months at most.

“The crackdown on non-Islamic hijab (Muslim veil) will continue until the society is clean of any immoralities,” Kargozaran quoted a police statement as saying.

The dress code requires women to cover their hair and wear long, loose clothes to disguise the shape of their bodies.

Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment, although most usually receive a stern warning by street patrols looking for women with veils that are pushed back to show too much hair or coats which are not long enough or too tight.

Kargozaran quoted the head of Iran’s airports police as saying 128 women had been prevented from taking their flights because of “bad hijab”. It did not give dates and said the figure for those stopped had been published previously.

Enforcement of strict moral codes governing women’s dress became more strict after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to power in 2005 with the backing of revolutionary loyalists, such as the Basij religious militia.

Analysts say the authorities are wary of outward expressions of defiance against the system, particularly when the country is under Western pressure over its disputed nuclear programme.

Dissent has been swiftly stamped on -- whether by students, women activists or labour union officials -- for fear that opposition could gain momentum, the analysts say.

Tehran prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi said this month the crackdown will intensify after the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, although he did not elaborate.

“The police regards the crackdown on immoral behaviour which includes fighting bandits, drug smugglers and people with improper clothing, as an inseparable part of its responsibilities,” police spokesman Mehdi Ahmadi told Reuters.

“Police will continue with the plan as before,” he added, declining to give details of police numbers.

In addition to women flouting the dress codes, police have have stopped men with spiky haircuts deemed “Western”. Barber shops have been temporarily shut for offering such haircuts.

Police even launched a crackdown in May on small, private firms that fail to enforce strict dress codes on their premises.