On streets and social media, Iranian women challenge IRGC general's obligatory hijab campaign

On streets and social media, Iranian women challenge IRGC general's obligatory hijab campaign
Iranian police's new campaign to punish citizens not obeying the obligatory hijab law opened a new chapter of civil disobedience seven months after the death of a young Kurdish woman in Islamic morality police custody.
5 min read
25 April, 2023
An Iranian woman walks past a sign reading, Please observe Islamic hijab when entering the complex, in front of the main entrance of a shopping center in downtown Tehran, 17 April 2023. [Getty]

"Where are you, Radan?", "Is this the same Radan they talked so highly about?", "There we go, here is Saturday", "Mr Radan did you mean this Saturday?"; these were just a few examples of posts that flooded Faris social media, along with photos of Iranian women without a head cover, over the past week in defiance of the obligatory Islamic hijab law.

Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Radan, an infamous former commander at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the country's current police chief, has been having a difficult time since he gave an ultimatum to women, setting 15 April, a Saturday, as the last day that the police tolerated objection to the obligatory hijab law in the country.

"From next Saturday, those who remove their hijab in public spaces, inside vehicles, and in shops will be referred to courts," Radan declared to the press on 8 March.

In response to his remarks, the Farsi hashtag #ازـشنبه, meaning from Saturday, was created and immediately used by Iranians who opposed the strict Islamic Sharia Law about women's outfits.

"The more freedom we win, the more beautiful the city gets. If I were in Radan's shoes, I would end my life," an Iranian Twitter user, SEPID, wrote on 15 April, with a photo of an unveiled young girl on the street.

Some others vowed to begin a new wave of civil disobedience in response to Radan's ultimatum and threats.

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"From Saturday, we will begin!" wrote Rojin Yousefzadeh, a women's rights activist recently released from prison.

"Many thanks to General Radan and other stupid officials of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] for breathing new life into the 'women, life, freedom' movement," Ehsan Mansouri, an Iranian Twitter user, wrote, referring to the movement that began last September after Mahsa Amini was allegedly beaten to death while in morality police custody.

"Disobeying the obligatory hijab was about to lose its political importance and become a normal part of our daily life. However, your threats [to prosecute women defying the hijab law] made hijab removal an act of disobedience which humiliates the political establishment," he continued.

Ordinary women were not the only ones who braved the threats of Iran's police and rejected wearing a hijab in protest against the establishment's suppression of social freedoms.

In a show of solidarity, the award-winning actress Pantea Bahram participated in the premier public screening of her latest work without a headcover in Tehran's Lotus cinema on 19 April.

Bahram is one of the several Iranian celebrities and artists who have supported the protests that rocked Iran in 2022.

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In an Instagram post at the peak of last September's anti-establishment protests, she wrote: "Without the slightest doubt, without being stopped for a moment, I'll be one of these people".

Many Iranians hailed Bahram's refusal to adhere to the obligatory Islamic dress codes, however the authorities immediately sacked the manager of Lotus Cinema.

On the first day of the new campaign to re-enforce the hijab law, over 150 businesses were also shut down by the police for providing service to unveiled women. Moreover, the police sent about 3,500 official warning text messages to the owners of the cars in which women did not wear any head covers.

Some extremists, along with the police forces, decided to take matters into their own hands and began threatening women and business owners. One of these extremists was Gholam Reza Hajebi, the Friday Prayer Imam in Qeshm, who is also the Supreme Leader's representative in this southern city.

In a video that went viral, Hajebi was seen with two other clerics, visiting different malls and ordering women to wear a head scarf. They also threatened the shop owners that their businesses would be closed if they accepted women without a hijab in their shops.

Hajebi's behaviour raised lots of criticism. Ali Mojtahedzadeh, a veteran lawyer, in an article for the pro-reformist daily Etemad, explained that the Supreme Leader's representative's move in Qeshm was against Iran's constitution and the country's criminal law.

"If all members of the authorities let themselves inspect and shut down businesses, then why at all do the prosecutors and law enforcement exist in the cities?" Mojtahedzadeh wrote.

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Meanwhile, high-ranking clerics rejected the authorities' strategy of enforcing the Islamic hijab law by deploying police forces and punishing businesses with closures and fines.

Ayatollah Asghar Nazemzadeh Qomi, in a statement, criticised the police's new campaign. His statement was widely circulated on social media and published in several outlets in the country.

"The ways which are deployed these days to encounter those who do not wear a hijab are not effective and would not solve the problem," read the statement.

Nazemzadeh Qomi even went further in his criticism, stressing that new fines and punishments regarding the hijab law were against Islamic Sharia.

"Methods like banning unveiled women from entering governmental offices, banks and entertainment centres, or shutting down shops and pharmacies, not only will not solve the problem but also is not accepted by the Sharia," the statement continued.

This prominent religious leader blamed the authorities as the leading cause of people's opposition to the hijab law in Iran.

"When the unstable economy and inflation damages people's lives, when they witness discrimination, cases of embezzlement and political suppression, they distance themselves from religious symbols like hijab. Then by revolting against those symbols, they demonstrate their protest," the statement concluded.