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US denounces sentencing of three Iranian hijab protesters

Young women in hijabs (Cary Bass-Deschenes/Flickr)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. State Department has condemned the recent sentencing of three Iranian women, including a mother and daughter, to combined prison terms of 55 years for protesting laws that make wearing a hijab compulsory.

“We condemn the Iranian regime for sentencing Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz to 55 years in prison for protesting compulsory hijab laws while simply handing out roses,” department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted on August 14, urging “all nations to condemn this grave violation.”

The three women are among dozens arrested in the past two years for defying the country’s mandatory dress code for women, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The New York-based human rights watchdog said 23-year-old Aryani, her mother, Arabshahi, and Keshavarz, the mother of a 9-year-old girl, were detained in and around Tehran in April and sentenced by a court last month.

Their arrest and sentencing came after a video that went viral on social media showed the trio, without head scarves, marking the March 8 International Women’s Day by handing out flowers to women on the subway.

“The day will come when we won’t have to fight for our most basic rights,” Arabshahi is heard saying.

On July 31, a court in the Iranian capital sentenced all three women to five years in prison for “assembly and collusion to act against national security,” one year for “propaganda against the state,” and 10 years for “encouraging and providing for [moral] corruption and prostitution,” according to HRW.

Keshavarz was sentenced to an additional 7 1/2 years for “insulting the sacred.”

HRW said that if the sentences were upheld on appeal, the women would serve 10 years, their longest sentence.

Women’s dress has been heavily scrutinized in Iran since the 1979 revolution, when adherence to an Islamic dress code became compulsory.

The dress code dictates that women’s hair and body must be covered in public.