New headscarf law: tougher penalties decided – sharp criticism

The Islamic regime is cracking down even more harshly on alleged clothing violations. Experts see the new law as a violation of fundamental rights.

Fines, imprisonment and social penalties: In Iran, harsh penalties will apply in the future for violations of the headscarf requirement. According to the state agency IRNA, members of parliament voted to introduce the controversial law on a trial basis for a period of three years.

In its most recent version, the reform provides for strict penalties for violating Islamic dress codes. These include fines for multiple violations. In extreme cases, up to 15 years in prison and the equivalent of more than 5,000 euros can be imposed. Foreigners could be expelled from the country.

Particularly harsh penalties for celebrities

Celebrities should be punished particularly harshly for violations. The draft also provides for professional bans of up to 15 years. The judiciary should also be able to confiscate a tenth of the assets. During the most recent wave of protests in the fall, numerous filmmakers expressed solidarity with the women’s movement.

Iran’s authorities also want to take action against online protests and are making it a criminal offense to publish photos without a headscarf online. There is a risk of fines and, in extreme cases, even imprisonment. The legal package also basically provides for re-education courses and exit bans as punishments. The judiciary also threatens to close shopping malls, restaurants or museums if violations occur. Insults against veiled women can result in up to six months in prison and 74 lashes.

“Form of gender apartheid”

The law cites examples of “poor clothing” for women as short-sleeved shirts or ripped jeans or tight clothing; for men, short-sleeved trousers or tank tops. The law requires ministries and security services to enforce Islamic dress codes with detailed instructions. Citizens and police officers should be able to easily report violations.

In August, a group of United Nations experts criticized that the hijab law “could be described as a form of gender apartheid.” “The draft law imposes severe penalties on women and girls for non-compliance, which could lead to violent enforcement,” the experts said. The bill violates fundamental rights, including the right to participate in cultural life, the prohibition of gender discrimination, freedom of expression, the right to peaceful protest and the right to access social, educational and health services.

Bypassed parliament with a political trick

The government had already pushed forward the proposed law a month ago. Using a political trick, a commission approved the penal reform without a vote in the plenary session of Parliament. As a final step, the reform will now be presented to the Guardian Council, a control body made up of ultra-conservative clergy.

The penal reform is a response from the clerical and political leadership to the women-led protests against the Islamic Republic in the fall of 2022. Saturday marked the first anniversary of the death of the young Iranian Kurdish woman Jina Mahsa Amini, who sparked the nationwide uprisings last year. She is also said to have not worn her headscarf “appropriately”. She was tortured in police custody and died as a result of her injuries. Read here how her cousin Erfan Mortezaie is still fighting against the regime. Parliament had recently repeatedly postponed the vote.

Experts assume that the Islamic regime is introducing severe punishments like these because it is under pressure: from the international community, but above all from the Iranian population. The measures are intended to intimidate and oppress people.

Many women oppose the obligation to wear a headscarf

While everyday life has returned to normal in the country, numerous women in major cities are resisting the requirement to wear a headscarf – also as a sign of silent protest. Hardliners had therefore been calling for tougher action against the numerous violations for months. The authorities use cameras with facial recognition to monitor residents and, if necessary, hold them accountable.