Police in Iran’s capital have arrested 29 women accused of being “deceived” into joining protests against a law that makes wearing the hijab compulsory. Women across the country have been protesting by climbing onto telecom boxes, taking off their headscarves and waving them aloft on sticks, RFERL reports.
Although women in Iran have fought against the hijab for nearly four decades, the new wave of protests has grabbed more attention and sparked a debate rarely seen before over personal freedoms. One recent image taken from Mashhad shows a religious woman, in full chador, standing on a telecoms box holding up a headscarf, in solidarity with women who – unlike her – don’t want to wear it.
Tehran police said on Thursday that the campaign had been instigated from outside Iran through illegal satellite channels. The Tasnim news agency reported on February 1 that police claimed the women had been “tricked” into removing their headscarves by a propaganda campaign being conducted by Iranians living abroad.
“Following calls by satellite channels under a campaign called White Wednesdays, 29 of those who had been deceived to remove their hijab have been arrested by the police,” the semi-official Tasnim news, which is affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, reported on Thursday.
Tasnim has strong links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and aims to defend “the Islamic Republic against negative media propaganda.”
The reformist Shargh newspaper covered the protests under the headline “Reactions to the removal of headscarves in the streets”. Such discussions have rarely reached national newspapers, which operate under heavy censorship, but comments by judicial officials allowed Shargh to write about the matter.
Soheila Jolodarzadeh, a female member of the Iranian parliament, said the protests were the result of longstanding restrictions.
“They’re happening because of our wrong approach. We imposed restrictions on women and put them under unnecessary restrains. This is why … girls of Enghelab Street are putting their headscarves on a stick,” she said, according to the semi-official Ilna news agency.
Masih Alinejad, a U.S.-based journalist and activist, started the #WhiteWednesdays campaign in May 2017, encouraging women to wear white headscarves or take them off in protest at the rules.
“The Iranian police announced in 2014 that they’ve warned, arrested or sent to court nearly 3.6 million women because of having bad hijab, so these arrests are not new, if people are protesting it’s exactly because of such a crackdown,” she told the Guardian.
Iranian officials have accused her of receiving money from foreign governments to fund her two separate anti-compulsory hijab campaigns – the first one is My Stealthy Freedom. Alinejad denied it, saying that although she works for the U.S. government-funded Voice Of America service, she has received no funds for either of her campaigns.
Iran’s Islamic law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, requires women to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes in public. Six other women were also reportedly taken into custody this week. A growing number of women in Iran have been removing their hijabs and waving them on a stick to protest the Iranian law.
Several images and videos of the demonstrations have gone viral on social media. The protests have coincided with demonstrations against economic conditions in eastern Iran. Some have called for the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to step down.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has not addressed the headscarf protest as of yet, but has said that the government needs to listen better to the population.
“We can’t get anything done if we don’t have the people behind us and ignore their criticisms,” Rouhani said.
Iran analyst Omid Memarian told Newsweek, “Civil disobedience is costly and women might face arrest and jail time for removing their scarves in public, but women courageously show defiance, indicating that the new generation finds no benefit in staying silent.”