Campaign

Update

August 15, 2022

Iran’s Women Imprisoned and Tortured for Resisting Forced Hijab—Free Them Now!

August 15, 2022

Picture this: you are a young woman going to work or school on the bus. A religious zealot starts to harangue you and other women for not “covering up properly,” films you on her camera, and threatens to turn you in to the police. Or you could be walking down the street and men jump out of an unmarked van and drag you in, charging you with “inciting immorality and prostitution”—because they could see your hair!

This dehumanization of women happens every day in Iran. Yet more and more, women are openly defying the law dictating full head covering (hijab) for every woman over 9 years old, and those who defend them include many men, as well as some women who wear the hijab by choice.

On July 16, a video went viral on Persian social media showing a woman known to be a bullying hijab-enforcer harassing and filming other women, on a women-only segregated bus, for not properly covering their hair. She scratches and bites the hands of those who try to block her cell phone camera and threatens to send the video to the IRGC (the feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). An unveiled woman films her back, responding, “I will send this video to the whole world.” The resister is 28-year-old artist, writer, and Tehran University student Sepideh Rashno. The incident doesn’t go well for the bully as a group of women shove her out onto the bus platform.

A few days after the video goes viral, Sepideh Rashno is arrested and taken to an undisclosed prison. For two weeks, her whereabouts become a trending hashtag: Where is Sepideh? Then, on July 31, Iranian news TV aired a chilling tape of her “confession” and “apology,” the bruises showing on her face even with the hijab.  Later it is revealed that five days after her detention, prison guards took Sepideh to the hospital for “internal bleeding caused by trauma” to get an X-ray of her internal organs after beating her on the abdomen. As of this writing, her condition and whereabouts are unknown.

Of the dozens of women who have been detained for their brave resistance to the brutal enforcement of the compulsory hijab law in Iran, Sepideh Rashno has become a symbol.

Picture this: you are a young woman going to work or school on the bus. A religious zealot starts to harangue you and other women for not “covering up properly,” films you on her camera, and threatens to turn you in to the police. Or you could be walking down the street and men jump out of an unmarked van and drag you in, charging you with “inciting immorality and prostitution”—because they could see your hair!

This dehumanization of women happens every day in Iran. Yet more and more, women are openly defying the law dictating full head covering (hijab) for every woman over 9 years old, and those who defend them include many men, as well as some women who wear the hijab by choice.

On July 16, a video went viral on Persian social media showing a woman known to be a bullying hijab-enforcer harassing and filming other women, on a women-only segregated bus, for not properly covering their hair. She scratches and bites the hands of those who try to block her cell phone camera and threatens to send the video to the IRGC (the feared Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). An unveiled woman films her back, responding, “I will send this video to the whole world.” The resister is 28-year-old artist, writer, and Tehran University student Sepideh Rashno. The incident doesn’t go well for the bully as a group of women shove her out onto the bus platform.

A few days after the video goes viral, Sepideh Rashno is arrested and taken to an undisclosed prison. For two weeks, her whereabouts become a trending hashtag: Where is Sepideh? Then, on July 31, Iranian news TV aired a chilling tape of her “confession” and “apology,” the bruises showing on her face even with the hijab.  Later it is revealed that five days after her detention, prison guards took Sepideh to the hospital for “internal bleeding caused by trauma” to get an X-ray of her internal organs after beating her on the abdomen. As of this writing, her condition and whereabouts are unknown.

Of the dozens of women who have been detained for their brave resistance to the brutal enforcement of the compulsory hijab law in Iran, Sepideh Rashno has become a symbol.

“The Increasing Pressure on Women and Their Resistance”

In a recent statement, the Iranian Writers Association declared,

“The method that has always been repeated with the intention of discrediting the protest and intimidating the protesters by the government: forcing the oppressed to sit in front of the camera and showing the suffocation by the ruler. Now, however, the widespread anger and reaction of the people showed that this tactic is more ineffective than before.... In recent months, many such news items have been published after crossing the censorship barrier: the news that reveals both the increasing pressure on women and their resistance.”

Thousands of people were outraged.  Many shared photos of Sepideh before and after her torture on social media.

Sepideh Rashno

The popular singer Mehdi Yarrahi tweeted a response to Sepideh’s televised confession that said in part “… I am extremely disgusted with the local radio and television and I expressly declare that this anti-people organization does not have the right to use and broadcast any of my works under any circumstances (neither on television nor on the radio nor anywhere).” (translation by IEC)  

One of his illustrated songs is dedicated to the mothers of protesters murdered in Iran’s November 2019 mass uprising. Many of these women are now in prison for seeking justice, some arrested under the government’s false pretext that they support the anti-forced-hijab movement.

Over the past month, numerous videos like this one have been shared on social media showing people on street, including many men, intervening to defend women who are being detained by morality police or harassed by “self-appointed” hijab enforcers. This is so concerning to the regime that women detainees are reporting that police are now seizing their cell phones and searching for videos.

Mullahs Double Down

In the face of this growing resistance, the misogynist theocrats at the helm of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) have doubled down on enforcement, calling for stationing morality police inside banks, medical centers and hospitals, and warning it will shut down restaurants and stores who serve women in “improper hijab.”  In their medieval view, the hijab must be enforced as a symbol of women’s chastity, and  they called for this past July 12 to be “Chastity and Hijab” day—an effort which was widely resisted.

The suppression and degradation of women embodied in the hijab law has been a core pillar and and key component of the ideological glue of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic Republic’s rule. It was one of the first laws they instituted in 1979 after taking power by hijacking the mass revolution that overthrew the Shah of Iran, a revolution in which hundreds of thousands of women participated.

Iranian women in the streets on International Women's Day, 1979

As posted by maosyangarim on their Instagram:

The hijab before the rule of the Islamic Republic and after it are two qualitatively different social phenomena.  After the Islamic Republic, with the transformation of the religious tradition into the theocracy, the obligatory hijab became one of the pillars of the rule of law and moral law of this regime. Its romanticization by thinkers of "cultural relativism" is reactionary.  Hijab in the Islamic Republic of Iran is not a feminine culture, but a lever of oppression in the hands of a very cruel religious-military-economic ruling class.  Its social content is to push women down in the social hierarchy and place her in what Islamists consider her "true place". . . Keeping women submissive is the key to keeping the whole people submissive. This phenomenon has both a history and a current reality. Its history dates back to the command of Ayatollah Khomeini of forced hijab in 1979.  (Translation by IEC)

Iran’s Justice Minister Mohseni-Eje'i ranted: “Different agencies need to be alert and find those behind this plot of spreading shamelessness in our society. Intelligence work needs to be done. Our prosecutors and police need to uncover these organized waves that are certainly backed by foreign services.”

As is typical when facing any opposition, the regime blames the anti-forced-hijab movement on pro-U.S.-imperialist and pro-Israeli meddling (“foreign services”), as well as anti-Muslim prejudice in the West. Quite aside from whatever pro-imperialist forces may be doing to fish in troubled waters, to support the IRI’s repression of women is simply unconscionable.

For example, in the wake of the resistance to its July 12 “National Day of Chastity and Hijab,” the IRI launched a savage new wave in its repression of the Baha’i religious community under the pretext, among other falsehoods, that the Baha’i community promotes the anti-forced-hijab movement because they are not Muslims. Some 52 Baha’is were arrested in July, among them three national leaders who had already spent 10 years behind bars. Two hundred security officers with bulldozers descended on a tiny village where Baha’is have lived for more than a century, and totally destroyed their homes and farms.1

The battle over the role of women is but one of the major contradictions roiling Iran.  This intensifying situation gives ever greater importance and urgency to the struggle to free Iran’s political prisoners, and in particular the content of the IEC’s Emergency Appeal, which appears in the Summer issue of Ms. Magazine and is now on newsstands.

Ms. magazine

A large number of Iran’s women prisoners are locked up for resisting the forced hijab.  Lawyers who dare to defend this resistance have also become political prisoners themselves.  One is Nasrin Sotoudeh who recently issued a moving letter in support of the struggle of women in the U.S.

Sign, share and spread the IEC Emergency Appeal:  The Lives of Iran’s Political Prisoners Hang in the Balance—We Must ACT Now

_______________

FOOTNOTES:

1 The outrageous and multi-faceted repression of Baha’is is beyond the scope of this update. Read more at IranHumanRights.org.

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