Tehran’s prosecutor is challenging a court decision to suspend the sentence against one of the “Revolution Women” protesters, claiming the move is illegal on grounds of immorality.
On Wednesday March 7, the prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi, announced that one of the women taking part in recent protests had been sentenced to two years in prison on charges of “encouraging people to moral corruption by lifting her hijab in public, publicly engaging in a [religiously] forbidden act and showing up in a public place without the sharia-mandated hijab.” At the same time, he said that the judge had suspended 21 months of the sentence for a period of five years — and that his office is appealing the decision suspension because, according to him, under the criminal code of the Islamic Republic a sentence handed down for immoral acts cannot be suspended.
Although Dowlatabadi did not name the sentenced woman, the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh told IranWire that the woman is her client, Narges Hosseini. “She has been sentenced to two years in prison merely for protesting against forced hijab in the most peaceful manner possible and in absolute silence,” Sotoudeh said. “She was charged with ‘encouraging moral corruption,’ which is the same as establishing a house of prostitution.”
Sotoudeh points out that the law is very clear on violations of hijab. It states: “If a woman appears in public without sharia-mandated hijab, she will be punished with a fine of between 5 to 50,000 tomans [between $1.40 and $14] or between 10 days to two months in prison.” She says the judiciary must be held accountable for the verdict against her client.
Narges Hosseini, 31, was the second woman to protest against the law on compulsory veiling by tying a scarf to a stick and waving it in front of her in a public space. She was arrested a few minutes into the protest and spent 20 days in the infamous Gharchak Prison on the outskirts of Tehran before she was released on bail.
The first woman to protest was Vida Movahed, who stood on a utility box in Tehran’s Revolution Street — giving the movement its name.
IranWire talked to Narges Hosseini about her protest, the prison sentence and what she has been through since the day she stood up against forced hijab.
Had you been informed of the verdict when the prosecutor announced it?
No, I had no idea about the verdict. Even when I called my lawyer Ms. Sotoudeh, she had not been told about it. I find it very interesting that while the defendant was not told about the verdict, the prosecutor was announcing the verdict and his objection to it.
Did you imagine that you would get such a sentence?
I never imagined that I would get such a harsh sentence. At the trial, the judge conducted himself very well and carefully listened to the defense. And at the end of the trial he told me: “promise me that you will not do this again, because it will be very bad for you later.” I got the impression that the upcoming verdict would not be very harsh and that I would get into trouble only if I repeated the act. When I saw the sentence of 24 months I was surprised. I was more surprised when the prosecutor objected to the suspension of the sentence.
Before the trial, or even before you stood on the box to protest, how did you imagine the government would treat you?
I knew that I would be arrested. I had looked into it and I knew that the punishment for removing your hijab in public is two months in prison, a cash fine of 50,000 tomans and/or 74 lashes. I knew that I would get one of these three punishments for what I was going to do. Of course, I had repeatedly seen that civil activists get heavy sentences that in no way are consistent with the charges against them. So I guessed that I could also get a heavy sentence. But what shocked me about the 24-month sentence was the judge’s behavior at the trial.
On what charges was the verdict based?
The indictment levelled three charges against me: encouraging people to corruption by removing hijab in public, flaunting a forbidden act and appearing in public without sharia-mandated hijab. I got 24 months in prison for these charges, but they later announced that since the defendant had no criminal record and since a suspended prison sentence can act as a preventive measure, they were changing it to three months’ suspended sentence and three months in prison. Of course, now the prosecutor has objected to the suspended sentence.
Now that the verdict has been issued, do you think if you could go back in time you would do anything differently?
I am not sorry for what I did. I had estimated beforehand what it was going to cost me. If I weigh the costs against my sense of fulfilment, my satisfaction outweighs the costs so much that I cannot say I am sorry for the action that I took.
After your protest, many people called you a brave woman. What do you say to this?
I do not feel brave because I followed the example of another person. The bravery was hers. The high costs were paid before me, and I am paying the smaller cost. Bravery was inspired in me. I got my bravery from people before me, from those who are still in jail. In other words, I am merely walking the trail that they blazed. I believe the [label of] being brave belongs to those three women who sang in the metro to tell women about their rights. Standing before people to tell them about their rights — this is what takes real courage. I do not have the self-confidence to do that.
Let’s go back to the day that you stood on the box. How did you feel? What happened that day?
I was both excited and stressed. I was on the box for five minutes before the police came. When they said they were from the police, I told them I wanted to see some ID. When they showed me their ID, I came down from the box without any resistance. They told me to put on my scarf. I said: “I will not wear the scarf. I was arrested because I had no scarf, so if you want to arrest me you must do it the way I am.” And they said: “All right; come with us.”
When we arrived at the police station they said: “Now you must wear your shawl because this is a police environment.” “It makes no difference to me,” I said. I was expecting violent treatment, but it did not happen. After delays with the security police and the prosecutor’s office, they transferred me to Varamin’s Gharchak Prison. I was not treated with violence.
We know one of the Revolution Women was treated violently. What do you say about that?
I heard about it in prison and it really shocked me. Perhaps I was not treated violently because I offered no resistance. I was arrested with respect.
Do you think acts like those of the Revolution Women will have an effect on Iranian society?
I think it will infuse the society with a lot of hope, and this is really a strong motivation for me. Before, talking about forced hijab was considered indecent but now everybody talks about it and expresses opinions with no problem. The door to this discussion was opened by the many efforts of civil activists.
What about your family? What do they think?
They did not agree with what I did, but they never opposed it to my face. They neither encouraged nor admonished be. The only worry my family had was about the conditions at the prison. They did not judge me. In my view, they treated me the best way that was possible for them.
Are you going to continue your fight against forced hijab?
I have yet to decide what I am going to do next. I only know that this Narges Hosseini is not the Narges Hosseini of a month ago. I will never be the Narges Hosseini of the past. But I have not yet decided what I will do in the future.
How did you find the reactions to what you did? How did other people respond to you?
The reactions have been so positive that I now have twice the energy I did. Of course, I was confident that I would get support but I was really surprised after I was released and saw the responses online. They were really precious and gave me so much energy. I would love to spread this energy, to say that in this game nobody is alone. If you want to claim your rights, rest assured you are not alone.
More on “Revolution Women”:
The Regime’s Tactics Against Iran’s “Revolution Women”, February 2018
People Want the Choice on Hijab — But the Regime Won't Listen, February, 2018
The Man Who Joined Revolution Women, February, 2018
More Women Protest by Removing their Hijabs, January, 2018
The Woman Who Stood Up Against Forced Hijab, January, 2018