Activists urge Iranian women to publicly unveil to protest crackdown

Women shop at a street in Tehran, Iran, November 29, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
  • Activists urge defiance on "National Day of Hijab and Chastity"
  • Iran's hardliners step up efforts to enforce Islamic dress code
  • Critics say harsh measures may lead to further unrest

DUBAI, July 12 (Reuters) - Iranian rights activists have urged women to publicly remove their veils on "National Day of Hijab and Chastity" on Tuesday, risking arrest for defying the Islamic dress code as the country's hardline rulers crack down on "immoral behaviour".

Under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. Violators face public rebuke, fines or arrest.

But decades after the revolution, clerical rulers still struggle to enforce the law, with many women of all ages and backgrounds wearing tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly coloured scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair.

Critics and activists see the establishment's stepped-up efforts to enforce hijab compliance as part of a wider clamp-down on dissent amid deepening resentment over economic hardship at home and growing Western pressure on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme.

As the state holds ceremonies across the country to celebrate the "National Day of Hijab and Chastity", rights activists have criticised the move and called on women to remove the veil.

"The National Day of Hijab and Chastity is only an excuse to target women and launch a new wave of repression against Iranian people and in particular women," dozens of prominent women's rights activists said in a joint statement on Monday.

In a display of civil disobedience, the hashtag #No2Hijab has been widely distributed on social media for days by Iranians outside and inside the country.

Videos of women removing their hijab as they walk in the streets or resisting the morality police have flooded social media. Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the videos.

"I should have the right to decide what I want to wear and not be imprisoned because of my choice. #No2Hijab," tweeted a female user.

NO VEIL TO REMOVE

Some women who voluntarily wear a veil and men have joined the campaign too.

"I don't have a veil to remove. But I will come to the street to support and defend the women and girls of my land. #No2Hijab," tweeted @mashmolak.

The New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) said on Monday there were "serious concerns over more potential violence and detentions on July 12".

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said several people were arrested on Monday.

The #No2Hijab campaign overlapped with months of protests by teachers, retirees, workers and government employees over unpaid wages, low pensions and sky-rocketing food prices that have hurt the establishment's legitimacy with protesters calling for political change.

"This is like pouring fuel on fire. People are already angry because of high inflation and rising prices. They are very frustrated," said a former Iranian government official. "Coercion has never worked."

Waves of the hijab protests have hit the clerical establishment in the past years. In 2014, rights activist Masih Alinejad started a Facebook campaign "My Stealthy Freedom", where she shared pictures of unveiled Iranian women sent to her.

It was followed by a campaign in 2017 for women to wear white headscarves on Wednesdays and the hijab protests in 2018 when women took to the streets holding their veils aloft. Dozens of women have been jailed in Iran for their activism against forced veiling, according to rights groups.

"The establishment fears a revolution by women that has already started today," Alinejad told Reuters.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Michael Georgy and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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