Iranian officials arrested Nargess Hosseini on January 29 as she took off her headscarf to protest Iran’s compulsory hijab while standing on top of an electric utility box on a street in Tehran. They arrested Azam Jangravi on February 14 and Shaparak Shajarizadeh on February 21 in similar circumstances. Sources told Human Rights Watch that Hosseini and Jangravi were released on bail, but Shajarizadeh remains in detention.
Hosseini and Jangravi, have stated in media interviews or social media posts that they independently decided to engage in peaceful protest to challenge Iran’s compulsory hijab laws.
Iran has a long history of imposing rules about what women can and cannot wear, violating their fundamental rights. In the 1930s, the then-ruler, Reza Shah, prohibited women from wearing the hijab, and police were ordered to forcibly remove headscarves from women wearing them. Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, in the early 1980s, Iranian authorities imposed a mandatory dress code requiring all women to wear the hijab.
The enforcement of a compulsory dress code on women in Iran violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy, and freedom of expression, as well as to freedom of religion, thought, and conscience, Human Rights Watch said. It is also a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international law.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Iran has ratified, guarantees people’s right to freedom of expression, to privacy, and to freedom of religion. Several United Nations independent experts have criticized rules that require wearing religious dress in public. The late Asma Jahangir, the former UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, had said that the “use of coercive methods and sanctions applied to individuals who do not wish to wear religious dress or a specific symbol seen as sanctioned by religion” indicates “legislative and administrative actions which typically are incompatible with international human rights laws.”
Human Rights Watch takes no position on whether wearing the headscarf or face covering veils is desirable, but opposes both policies of forced veiling and blanket bans on the wearing of religious dress as disproportionate and discriminatory interference with basic rights.
“Women in Iran and elsewhere should be free to dress as they please,” Whitson said. “This includes deciding whether to wear a headscarf or not, no matter what those in power think.”