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Iranian deputies vote to toughen penalties for women flouting dress code

Iran's flag (Dreamstime/TNS)
September 21, 2023

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

Iran’s parliament has unveiled the text of a contentious hijab and chastity bill aimed at confronting, detaining, and penalizing women who fail to observe the compulsory dress code amid a fierce debate over the rules, which have drawn criticism both inside the country and abroad.

The bill was approved by 152 deputies — 34 voted against and seven abstained — on September 20, just four days after the first anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini while the 22-year-old was in custody for an alleged hijab infraction.

The legislation empowers three intelligence agencies — the Ministry of Intelligence, the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Organization, and the Intelligence Organization of the Judiciary — along with police, the Basij paramilitary forces, and the Command of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong to take action against women who break the rules.

The legislation, which is being implemented on a three-year trial basis, also touches on the need for broader gender segregation in universities, administrative centers, educational institutions, parks, and tourist locations, and even in hospital treatment sections. It proposes severe penalties, including imprisonment up to 10 years and fines for women who defy the mandatory hijab law.

A United Nations fact-finding mission said in a statement last week that the law will “expose women and girls to increased risks of violence, harassment, and arbitrary detention.”

According to Article 50 of the bill, anyone who appears in public places or streets in a state of nudity or seminudity, or with a dress that is considered as too revealing, will be immediately apprehended by officers and handed over to the judiciary. Those arrested will face imprisonment or a fine, and if the offense is repeated, the imprisonment or fine will be increased.

The bill also stipulates that anyone who is judged to have insulted the hijab, promoted nudity, immodesty, or an improper hijab, or performs any behavior that promotes them will be sentenced to a fine and, at the discretion of the judicial authority, a ban on leaving the country and a ban on public activity on the Internet for six months to two years.

The bill also prohibits commissioning work or advertising from individuals or legal entities that promote non-hijab values in their activities inside or outside the country, or in any media, including social media.

The hijab became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

The death of Amini released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The Women, Life, Freedom protests and civil disobedience against the compulsory hijab have swept the country, involving tens of thousands of Iranians, many of whom were already upset over the country’s deteriorating living standards. Campaigns were also launched against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

The protests have also been buffeted by the participation of celebrities, sports stars, and well-known rights activists, prompting a special mention of such luminaries in the legislation.

In the face of the unrest, some religious and government figures have repeatedly advocated for a tougher stance by the government against offenders, even going as far as encouraging a “fire-at-will” approach against noncompliant women.

While the protests have shown some signs of waning, resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state’s repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.