Fearful of reigniting Iran’s worst political turmoil in years, regime authorities are turning to new, less intrusive tactics to punish women who refuse to wear the mandatory Islamic hijab.
The methods, introduced in the aftermath of anti-government protests across the country last year, combine the use of security cameras with the denial of state services to offenders, replacing the morality police, whose actions were the high point of months of riots.
According to Iranian activists, the measures have yet to make much headway against opposition to the hijab and could add to economic pressures if they result in business closures.
“Walking unveiled through the streets is now my way of keeping our revolution alivesaid Roya, 31, a private teacher in the northern city of Rasht, who was arrested during protests in November and held for three months.
“We are not afraid of the regime’s threats. We want freedom (…) This path will continue until we recover our country from the hands of the clerics, ”he declared to Reuters Maryam, a high school student from the western city of Kermanshah. “What is the worst case scenario if I walk down the street without a hijab? get arrested? I do not care”.
During decades, women who refused to wear the hijab were accosted by the morality police, which operated from vans that patrolled busy public spaces. The crew of the vehicles, made up of men and women, kept an eye on “non-Islamic dress and behaviour”.
But those vans have mostly disappeared from the streets of the cities they used to patrol, residents told Reutersafter protests plunged Iran’s clerical rulers into their worst crisis of legitimacy since the Islamic revolution of 1979.
Iranian authorities have also stated that morality police patrols will no longer lead the campaign against those who break the dress codes.
Instead of the vans, authorities are installing cameras on the streets to identify unveiled women, a more discreet method of detecting violations of Iran’s conservative dress code.
Another novel tactic is the government order to the public and private sectors not to provide services to “offenders”. Warnings of heavy fines and even prison terms have been issued.
However, more and more women are defying the authorities by shedding their headscarves in the wake of protests, which erupted after the death of a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish girl detained for allegedly violating hijab rules. Security forces violently put down the revolt and street demonstrations died down in February.
His death in September, in the custody of the morality police, sparked years of pent-up anger in society over issues ranging from economic misery to the tightening of political controls.
Women now frequently appear unveiled in shopping malls, airports, restaurants and on the streets in a display of civil disobedience.
(With information from Reuters)
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